Develop a Brand Centric Product Development Process
How do you know if your product development process is broken?
One good way to assess it is to see if you are getting lots of “no” answers from your team when you suggest new products. As in “No, we can’t do that,” “No, we’ve never done that before,” “No, a custom version will take too long” or “No, we don’t have a vendor for that.” These could be signs and patterns that your process and/or people are stuck. An ideal process is full of yes answers; that is, the right kind of yes answers. Below you’ll find the steps to get your process on the right track.
The solid foundation to a healthy product development process is the product fit chart. A product fit chart serves as a compass for merchants, buyers and product developers -- all when reviewing product decisions. The chart combines your brand characteristics (usually a list of brand defining adjectives), overlays of target audience needs and price ranges that suit your unique customer base.
Documented on one piece of paper, the product fit chart provides a vehicle for healthy discussion and debate about whether a product is brand enhancing or brand detracting. The best product development conversations don’t simply circle around whether a product is in or out, but delve into the deeper question of why. Why is this product ours to create or add to the line? Why haven’t our competitors done something similar? Product fit charts help clarify brand direction and enable a staff of merchants, buyers and developers to literally be on the same page as they deal with various product categories, vendors, etc. Take the time as a team to create one. Another helpful exercise is to try to create product fit charts for your top three competitors.
With a product fit chart as your anchor, the decision-making process becomes clearer for all involved. When you apply strategic thinking at the beginning of the product conception process and new intentions can develop. More enthusiasm arises for the yes answers because they are seen as critical to the brand. Products with only so-so enthusiasm aren’t given the green light. Your merchants, buyers and product developers will have to work harder, but your product line ends up more differentiated and more relevant to your customers’ real needs.
A great deal of product research and development should occur prior to the selection process. But catalogers always should have a steady stream of products in their queue of potentials. These are products derived from actively listening to your customers — feedback from phone, e-mail, or the very best face-to-face interactions. These customer connections truly are the lifeblood of your product development process. What you hear through these interactions should be turned into vendor conversations, product prototyping and passionate sourcing.
Take time to examine your product development process thoroughly. It might just be the hidden place in your organization with the most potential for positive brand impact.
Next week: The fourth and final installment of our feature series on revamping your brand will focus on entering a new product category.
Andrea Syverson can be reached at (719) 495-2354 or via e-mail at email@example.com.