How to Generate Product Concepts That Sell
Think about the last time you were excited by a product you saw in a catalog, store or online. What was it that made you take notice? What prompted you to buy it?
For product developers, getting to the heart of these questions provides the insights that can help turn ho-hum product concepts into winning sales successes.
In Willard Zangwill’s book, “Lightning Strategies for Innovation,” he references the Kano Model as a way to think through product development. From a customer’s viewpoint, a product has three types of features:
- Presumed: These are the ones the customer assumes the product will have and to which the customer pays little attention.
- Expected: These are the features the customer examines as part of the buying decision.
- Delightful: The customer doesn't expect to see these features, and these are the ones that really sell the product.
The delight factor is the Holy Grail of product developers. How can you create winning product concepts that get attention, generate interest, make a sale and leave customers delighted?
As you begin your next product-planning phase, consider the following six ideas.
1. See the brand through your customers’ eyes. Are the product concepts presently in development ones that will make your customers infatuated with your brand? To use the Harley-Davidson example, are they “tattoo-worthy?”
Could they easily be your competitors’ products? If so, it’s time to review your brand elements. What’s missing? What features will turn up the volume and make these concepts more brand-worthy? You may need to let go of safe concepts to pursue more risky — and attention-getting — ones.
2. Create a product-fit chart. Are your product concepts still relevant in today’s economy? Has your merchandising strategy kept pace with your customers’ preferences and/or lifestyles, and with your competitors’ strategies?
Create an updated product-fit chart based on your brand positioning. Try this as an interdisciplinary exercise: Invite your marketers, designers, copywriters and customer service representatives. Evaluate your new product concepts against this revised fit chart. You may be surprised to see that what you once thought was risky is now safe to offer.
3. Finding new product concepts is your job, not your customers’. Do you rely too much on customer surveys and focus groups? Customers aren’t the ones who should be generating new concepts. They have a hard time predicting their own future needs, and are best at helping tweak existing products and defining new attributes or enhancements to the original.
Devising remarkable new product concepts is your job. One of the best ways to do this is to study your customers in person.
Get in their settings, be where they are: at the mall, work, the theater, the beach, school, wherever your primary customer demographic is likely to be. Observe their behaviors, apparel, purchasing preferences, etc. Experience their daily lives in relation to your product.
4. Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes … a mile in another direction, that is. Try to look at your customers’ lives through a different lens — that is, a different industry or setting. For example, if you’re a cataloger of personal goods, look at your customers’ professional lives. If you sell clothing, look at the home décor industry. Go to different shows, even different countries, if appropriate. Look at the offerings of your competitors. Try to see things with new eyes by changing your line of vision. What can you modify or change to make your brand relevant to your audience?
5. Get emotional. Here’s another worthwhile interdisciplinary exercise: Bring your employees together from various departments, and separate them into teams of two or three. Show them a few MasterCardTM “Priceless” ads and ask them to create a similar concept for your brand. You’ll be amazed at what a shortcut this can be in defining your brand’s essence.
Look at all the final comments. What’s priceless about your brand? From this exercise you may discover the emotional hook for creating products that will delight your audience. Build on those feelings.
6. Brainstorm. You may discover a clever, attention-getting product, but for it to sell, you must ask the question every customer asks: “What’s in it for me?”
In their book, “Creating Breakthrough Products,” Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel encourage product developers to ask three questions when formulating new products:
- Is the product useful? Does it enhance some activity or allow customers to accomplish an activity that’s important to them?
- Is the product easy to use and does it stay consistent in use throughout the product’s expected life cycle?
- Is the product desirable? Does the item respond to who the customer is as a person and complement how he or she wants to project themselves to others?
Finally, to generate product concepts that sell, you must be passionate about the product you’re asking your company to invest in. You’re the product champion internally. You must believe in it with your whole heart. Your enthusiasm will help it catch fire inter-departmentally — and then on the page or screen as you entice customers to trust you to delight them.
Remarkable product creation isn’t easy. It is, however, the only thing that will keep customers infatuated with your brand. It is, indeed, priceless.
Andrea Syverson is a right- and left--brained creative marketing strategist with more than 17 years of experience in creating products that delight customers. She is president of IER Partners, a catalog consulting firm, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Syverson is the founder and president of creative branding and merchandising consultancy IER Partners. For 20+ years, Andrea’s joy has been inspiring clients with innovative approaches to branding, product development and creative messaging. She’s the author of two books about brand building and creating customer-centric products that enhance brands: BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants and ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators. You may reach her at email@example.com.