For established brands and DTC companies alike, new product innovation is the lifeblood of sustainable growth and customer retention. The ease at which new players can enter any given category means competition is stiffer than ever.
While we know bringing new products to market quickly and efficiently is paramount to growth, it’s extremely difficult to do it cost effectively. Making a hit product that thousands of customers will love is like making a hit song. The best team with the most amazing marketing plan and biggest budget can fall flat. There are simply too many external factors that can make or break a product’s success.
What brands can do, though, is build infrastructure to rapidly concept, prototype and test products while minimizing the upfront investment to get to market. The steps aren’t set in stone, but look something like the following.
Gut check your hypothesis
When you’re concepting new product ideas, think carefully about what you and your consumers have in common. What about them can you relate to? Ask not only what type of product you think they would buy but also whether or not you would buy it.
Additionally, when you’re concepting product ideas, do not neglect input from your customer service team. They are on the front lines talking to your consumers every day. They’ve heard it all, from “Why doesn’t your product do XYZ?” to “I love your product but wish it did XYZ, too.”
Invite them to new product brainstorms. Ask them questions about what type of feedback they’re seeing. While you’re at it, hop on the customer service channels or sales floor. Interacting with your customers and watching how they shop your brand will provide insight as to how your product pipeline could take shape.
Optimize your hypothesis
Testing can take many forms, and oftentimes the word connotes a very complex process laden with robust data sets and analysis. That rigor is important, but at the beginning, informal testing is just as valuable. Once you’ve narrowed down to three or four product concepts you want to explore, make use of your audience.
Social is an interesting tool for honing product ideas. Those 50,000 followers your brand has on Instagram? Poll them. Throw up a quick Instagram story asking a question regarding the products you’re developing.
That type of testing can be done with very minimal resources, and as long as the sample size is large enough, it’s a great first step before building a more formal testing protocol. It will also save you a ton of time. If your concept doesn’t pass the sniff test of your most dedicated social community, it certainly won’t resonate with less passionate consumers.
Polls are great for narrowing down and refining a concept, but especially for startup DTCs where budgets are tight and you want to make sure what you’re building is as close to failure-proof as possible. The great news is that you can very practically build an entire online sales funnel and see exactly how efficiently you can drive before you even place your first purchase order.
There are plenty of out-of-the-box commerce site solutions designed for rapid prototyping and testing. With very few resources, you can build a light brand for your product and create a full checkout experience.
Of course, you don’t have a product just yet to deliver so you definitely don’t want to capture any credit card or payment information, but you can drive small portions of your audience down this sales funnel with Facebook and Instagram ads. Assess the acquisition costs the two or three other concepts you’re testing before deciding which to move forward with.
The days of Kickstarter and Indiegogo as platforms exclusively for small companies or solo entrepreneurs are over. Now companies large and small can take advantage of these powerful crowdfunding platforms, and in doing so, can mitigate some of their potential upfront inventory costs by ensuring a baseline demand before a full-scale marketing push.
Startup, DTC and established brands are coming to the platform in a major way, setting fundraising goals and pushing forward with full commercialization only if a minimal threshold of support exists. This saves you from warehousing thousands of units of unwanted widgets and paying costly storage fees or having to flash sale your newly launched product on Groupon a few months after launch.
It’s important to note, though, that as with all online communities, respect is paramount. The expectations of crowdfunding backers are different than your regular consumer. They expect a certain amount of transparency and like to feel as if they’re a part of the development process. If you’re not willing to participate in that type of environment, sharing behind the scenes content or proving candid updates, crowdfunding isn’t for you.
Each of these steps leverages tools that have come to market over the last few years, designed specifically to alleviate things that will sap time and/or budget. Some are likely already in use by your company, like social and CRM, while others are a few clicks away.
They are usable by any company looking toward its next product. But more than the tools themselves, it’s important to remember that a test-and-learn approach to product development is the absolute key to keeping things lean and makes experimentation a repeatable, rigorous process you can rely on to find your next great product.