New products breathe life into a product portfolio. “New” is one of the most powerful words in the marketing vocabulary and every company needs to see a significant proportion of its product lineup graced with this adjective. This is something we all know. What is more difficult to determine is where ideas for new products come from.
New ideas can arise randomly or they can be forced in a more systematic way.
Random ideas may appear as such, but it is more likely that they are drawn magnetically to the crucible of design. A company’s existing products will inevitably draw comments and conceptions from within the company and from customers. The skill is being able to harness these seemingly random suggestions and vet them to see if they can be turned into a viable opportunity.
However, we haven’t time to hang around waiting for random ideas which may not arise when we need them. It is worthwhile therefore understanding how to force the generation of new product ideas. Here are 8 possibilities:
Look to the competition. Visit exhibitions, look on the Internet, walk around distributors premises. Despite what people say, there can be money to be made out of being second into the market. Think BookStacks which was founded in 1992 and paved the way for Amazon who didn’t start in business until a couple of years later and made a better fist of it.
Look at market sectors. Look at the indirect competition - companies making products that perform a similar function to yours but which are made in a different way. A manufacturer of cardboard boxes wanted to extend its range and looked at companies using plastics in packaging where it found targets which were interested in a more sustainable packaging product.
Look at patent applications. Where patents are registered and what they are for can be highly illuminating. In addition, there could be mileage in looking at patent applications which have remained dormant but which could present good licensing opportunities today.
Look inside your own company. Ask the sales teams, look back through old reports, check the archives. There could be something that was not appropriate for launch a few years ago which could make it to the market today.
Look to customers. Customers use your products and sometimes they modify them to make them more user-friendly without mentioning what they have done to you. Walk round your customers’ factories and offices and see how your products (and your competitors’ products) are being used. Ask your customers what they would wish for if they had a magic wand.
Look at the pressures influencing a market. The traditional forces that shape a market are political, economic, social and technological. Which of these are having most effect on your market? A company selling mail-order products could see that its customer base was ageing rapidly. Instead of trying to diversify and find younger customers, it extended its products for older people and tapped into a very wealthy and profitable seam.
Look to the academics. Universities and academics have time on their hands to think about new products. Sometimes their lack of commercialization means that they ignore opportunities which are sat on their benches.
Look to foreign sources. It used to be said that products launched in America would find their way into other countries five years later. America isn’t the only cradle of new product development today. Asia could be a fertile source of new ideas.