Technology has made it easier than ever to buy any product whenever and wherever you want. Likewise, the development of new tools and equipment means that businesses are more able to design and create a wide variety of products to sell. In this environment, businesses need to be innovative with their products, launching ranges and stock that captures the interest of their target customers both in-store and online to make sales and profits.
Encouraging this innovation in your business practices can be a challenge, especially if you’re not clear on what you’re aiming for or how to manage it. Releasing products that customers will want and buy isn’t a random process of asking your research and development department to come up with something new. The better your product innovation management, the better your customer reactions will be in response to the products you introduce to them.
What is Product Innovation Management?
Although there are many ways of doing it, the core of product innovation is about creating new products to meet customer needs and solve their problems. This may require updating your existing range with improvements or added features so they can better serve customers in their purpose. Alternatively, you may look to create entirely new products, meeting a need that your business previously hadn’t, appealing to new and existing customers.
Product innovation management oversees this process, from research to the release of your product. This helps direct your teams towards the customer problems their product ideas should resolve and encourages them to create solutions. Your management also keeps these ideas realistic, knowing the difference in available software tools such as PandaDoc vs DocuSign vs HelloSign, and which ones will most benefit your teams and lead to profitable products.
Key Types of Product Innovation
Regardless of the size of your business or its existing reputation, all product innovation fits into three categories. Identifying which type of innovation you’re looking for can save time for your developers and change their approach to solving customer issues. Not all product innovation requires you to start from scratch, and your product goal could be reached using any of the following key types of product innovation.
- New Product Development
Abbreviated to NPD, new product development looks to create something completely new to sell to customers. This can attract new customers who haven’t previously been interested in your ranges, as well as encourage previous customers to return to your business and make repeat purchases. New products also rely on your marketing team hyping up the launch and getting customers excited for the release, encouraging them to pre-order and buy the item.
In NPD, you should use the expertise and experience of your business to identify the needs of your customers and use these as a brief for your new product. However, just because the product is new doesn’t mean it can’t use existing concepts and ideas from previous products. If a feature or design worked well and would be relevant to your new product, be inspired by it. This makes your new products coherent with your existing range, whilst tackling different issues.
- Product Improvement
Your existing products can continue to solve customer problems, however, innovation can make them better at doing this. This is particularly true for products that have been around a while; doing product improvements and updates can use newer technologies or make changes so the product lasts longer, works quicker, or creates higher quality results. Making these changes encourages customers to continue buying these products, already being familiar with how they work.
Improvement is an endless cycle in every part of your business, as there’s always something that could work better. Whereas for your teams, this might look like introducing competitors of magicJack as your new phone system, product improvements also need to make the item more capable and better value for money. Take your lead from the customers on the improvements they want, prioritizing their preferences as they’re the ones using the product regularly.
- Adding New Features
As technology and the needs of your customers evolve, there may be more your existing products could be doing. Adding new features gives new functions to your products, adapting them to suit different tasks and uses in your customers’ lives. This serves to sell your quality product to more people and increase its average usage, whilst reducing the time to market for your business ideas.
Your new features should be both related to your existing product and what it aims to do, alongside fulfilling the needs of customers. Adding features for no reason can create a confusing product, overloading users with instructions and ways of working it. Nonetheless, relevant features can make your product easier to use and increase its ability to integrate various tasks for the user.
Managing Your Business’s Product Innovation
Ensuring consistent innovation in your teams can be tricky, especially as ideas depend on the creativity of individuals, collaboration with developers and testers, and motivation. However, there are some actions you can take to foster a spirit of innovation and inspire new products. These can help direct your teams so that the ideas they create and the products they develop will be useful and worthwhile additions to your business’ range.
Research What Your Customers Want
Rather than guessing at what’s a successful new product, find out what your customers want. You can do this using customer behaviour analytics tools and tracking which product pages see the most views or purchases. Also, you can ask your customers about the issues they face most, giving you an idea of what challenges your innovation should resolve. This ensures your ideas will be received well by customers and your products are tackling real issues.
Know Your Business Capabilities
Depending on your business size, employees, and equipment, different resources and abilities will be available to you to help develop new products. Knowing what your business is capable of prevents your teams from investing in and developing ideas that rely on resources you don’t have access to. This can lead to abandoned projects, low team morale, and not resulting in the expected product innovation.
Encourage an Innovative Environment
Working in a space that is designed for innovation makes it far easier to generate new ideas and put them into action. This could be through hosting regular collaboration sessions, creating mind maps of ideas, celebrating original concepts, or providing innovative tools to aid the process. For your teams, this ensures they have the support and equipment around them to work on their ideas and prompt innovations regularly.
Test Your Products
Before releasing your new products and features to the public, it’s essential that you test them to ensure quality and ease of use. Having products break and lead to unsatisfied customers can be discouraging for the whole business, as well as affecting the omnichannel customer experience examples you use to interact with your target market. Thoroughly testing shows where improvements are needed, alongside where other features may be valuable.
The best way of knowing if your product is successful in its aims is by asking the customers and users. You can do this by sending out feedback forms or asking questions in follow-up emails. Alternatively, you may choose to release a beta version of your product so you can see how users interact with the product and make changes based on this. Customer feedback can then prompt improvements and show what your customer base is looking for from your products.
Consider the Cost
Most businesses have a budget for new products, and you should keep this in mind when in the product discovery stages. There’s no point adding everything you can think of if your business can’t afford it. Staying within your budget helps to make your product profitable to the business and sets some realistic boundaries on what’s possible to create. Likewise, keep in mind how much your product will sell for and if customers can afford this cost.
Get Started With Your Product Innovation Management
Whether you’ve been innovating new products for your business for a while or you’re new to it, having a management plan can help it run smoothly. Your management plan can be based on tracking stages in the innovation and development process, asking questions throughout, or regular meetings to follow the progress. Each of these keeps you informed of what’s going on and helps to keep your design teams in line with what customers are asking for.
Product innovation comes in many forms. For experienced businesses, it may be easy to create and develop new products from conception to shelf within a short space of time alongside other projects with the digital workplace technologies at their disposal. However, for smaller businesses and those new to their industry, they have to adapt to the innovative process to produce something for their range that serves their customers.
How you manage your product innovation will likely differ from other businesses, depending on your resources, individuals, and customer base. The priorities of one business may not be relevant to you or reflect the values of your own business, so be confident in making your strategies to innovate. Not every idea will result in a new product, but that doesn’t mean the process is wasted. If it helps you find the right new product, it’s still worth your time.
Jessica Day – Senior Director, Marketing Strategy, Dialpad
Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern business communications platform. Together with Dialpad’s voicemail services, their platform takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts, for both company and client campaigns. Jessica has written for other domains such as Filestack and VirtualSpeech. Here is her LinkedIn.