Tips for Avoiding Product Failure

Jun 08, 2009

By Tom Ryan

Writing in Fast Company’s newsletter,
Mark Dzeirsk, VP design at Brandimage-Desgrippes & Laga, listed six ideas for avoiding
product failure. Among them, being honest, moving fast, exploring extensions
before launch, and testing your idea on the web.

Mr. Dzeirsk noted that
it’s often quoted that eight out of ten new product introductions fail
in the first year. Of the two that make it, eight of ten don’t make it
through year two.

“Most of the businesses
I deal with have more than enough ideas. It’s determining the right ones
to invest time and energy into that is the trick,” wrote Mr. Dzeirsk.

Mr. Dzeirsk offered the
following suggestions to reduce the failure rate of new products:

1. Don’t have a casual relationship
with the truth:
claims will be quickly identified in the hypercompetitive market and
internet blog world. Wrote Mr. Dzeirsk, “Make sure what you’re
selling lives up to the hype.”

2. Side effects can kill repurchase: The
author used an example of a cleaning product that smelled nice in the store
but left streaks on a sunlit floor as well as an innovative kid’s squeeze
bottle that converted easily into a squirt gun. Wrote Mr. Dzeirsk, “If
the first moment of truth is purchase, and the second is use, it’s really
the third moment, when someone comes back to buy it again–or not–that
makes or breaks the business.”

3. If the emperor has no clothes,
say so:
bold enough to push unconventional ideas if buying habits change drastically.
Wrote Mr. Dzeirsk,
“Find ways to get around company politics, skewer sacred cows, and re-invent
tired protocols, and your solutions will have a better chance of connecting.”

4. Knock yourself off before someone
else does:
launching a product, explore extensions to prevent others from copying
the idea as well as further learning any upside or shortcomings before
it’s too late.

5. Go fast even if you don’t need
Dzeirsk noted a client in office products who made hundreds of prototypes
on the chance that some connected. He wrote, “A handful of hits
more than compensated for the more abundant misses.”

6. Facebook is the new focus group: At the minimum, use the internet,
and social networks to test ideas, capitalizing on the anonymity of the
web. Wrote Mr. Dzeirsk, “Find out what the tribe or community of people
who are invested and aligned around the issue honestly think and you will
have an early understanding if your product is headed for success…or
pointed toward the dreaded failure bin.”

Discussion Questions:
What do you think of Mark Dzeirsk’s suggestions
for avoiding product introduction failure? Which make the most
and least sense? Are there any you would add?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "Tips for Avoiding Product Failure"

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David Zahn
11 years 11 months ago

New product ideas–live and die first and foremost on fulfilling a need or want. If the new product does not improve or better the customer in any way, or at least is not perceived as being an improvement (however the customer chooses to quantify that), it is not going to be successful. Everything else is secondary to that.

Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 11 months ago

I would think that the starting point for improving success would be to introduce products that are new and different and better than what exists–something that represents a real addition to the choices consumers have.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 11 months ago

Great ideas all; however, I see perils with “Knock yourself off first” which leads perhaps to a new rule: “Beware of self cannibalization.” Marketers and retailers can have trouble distinguishing between a valid niche and a market-share-diluting misfire (Gap and Old Navy come to mind on the retailer side, not to mention all of the spin-offs that have launched and fizzled in the past five years). Perhaps it’s better to own it all and dilute your sales before someone else does; however, overestimating the situation or jumping the gun can have irreversible consequences. Sometimes the answer is “Let them try.”

Charlie Moro
Charlie Moro
11 years 11 months ago

Mr Dzeirsk makes a great point about being open and honest about what is great and not so great about a new product or extension being introduced. The two rules I have tried to convey over the years is, why does the world need another one? And, you need to build a program that keeps the cashiers busy.

Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
11 years 11 months ago

In Mark Dzeirsk’s list, I see nothing about support for the salespeople at the point of purchase. New products with the highest potential for success are those that solve a customer’s problem in an innovative way. But the greater the degree of innovativeness, the greater the degree of unfamiliarity to the customer and, therefore, the greater the need for the salesperson to tutor and coach the customer. And it’s not just about how to use the product. It’s how to get the best from using the product and how to avoid problems.

That leads to another item for the list: The users of a new product in the wide world are an excellent source of advice about what is not going right. Manufacturers and supplies who overlook opportunities to gather this information are missing another way to head off product failure.

Bill Robinson
Bill Robinson
11 years 11 months ago

This is a good list, but another essential is to test the product launch in several stores before rolling it out. Retailers usually do not do this well. The secret is to identify the control group and metrics to measure. For example if the innovation is a product extension, you’d want to measure the impact on sales on the other products in the brand. If the product is positioned against a competitor product, what is the impact on the competitive SKUs?

Retailers should ask for vendor funding on such tests. And with good reason, for the vendor stands to avoid costly mistakes if they can get the right feedback prior to the rollout. Retailers might also be asked to try a range of point of purchase approaches. Which one does best over the test interval. By systematically testing in a retail environment the rate of success has got to improve. This would make it a better world for CPG manufacturers and retailer alike.

Ben Ball
11 years 11 months ago

All of these ideas make sense. Now all you have to do is to get corporate management structures to respond to them instead of the rigors of day-to-day P&L management and Wall Street. The fact is that thousands of products are launched every year by management teams that either know full well they are mediocre ideas at best, or who choose to believe carefully nuanced powerpoint presentations of the market testing results and potential from the new product development team. It is done to fill pipelines, to protect or expand shelf space and to make volume numbers.

I am mindful of Biblical admonitions as I write this–so let me quickly add that as a former CPG marketer, I’m not going anywhere near a stone today, much less casting one! This is simply the nature of the current corporate beast.

Lee Peterson
11 years 11 months ago

Coordination with the sales team, especially if said product is going out to retail, is another essential factor. I can’t tell you how many times we would go out into stores, wondering why our latest new product wasn’t selling, and find it stuck on the wrong rack or back in a corner somewhere. Constant communication–from the onset–is critical.

As a matter of fact, buy-in from all factions of the company, from the initial idea on to execution, is another un-named factor. If all aren’t on board, the train will de-rail.

Joan Treistman
11 years 11 months ago
A wise investment banker once told me that just because a new product is a great product doesn’t mean it will be a successful product. From my perspective not enough attention is given to what will prevent a new product from passing all the gates of a successful launch. The remark that “Facebook is the new Focus Group” suggests a lack of interest in understanding consumers’ attitudes and opinions. It’s that kind of slip sliding around the truth and its implications that put a limit on understanding the potential pitfalls and limiting success. Consumer research can be a significant advantage for meeting marketing goals. But you have to know what it is and how to use it correctly. Even if you rely on focus groups and want to hear the echo of your heartfelt desire you’ll pass on the negative reactions and counter with the lady who told you what you wanted to hear. To reduce the number of new product failures means owning up to the downside potential and realistically determining whether the barriers… Read more »
David Biernbaum
11 years 11 months ago
Here are a few other tips for avoiding product failure: 1. Design your packaging for its point of purchase location in the store. Keep in mind that your message needs to resonate in two seconds in a busy shelf environment with lots of distractions and under fluorescent store lighting. Write me if you do not know what this means because it’s a critical point. 2. If possible, give your product a name that tells your story all by itself. Avoid being so clever or cute that most consumers won’t understand the product’s true use, purpose, or points of differentiation. 3. Do not underestimate the true investment that will be needed to achieve success. Do not rely on distribution alone to generate enough success to remain on the shelves. It is up to you, not the retailer, to generate the energy to drive sales. 4. Avoid putting your product on the shelves too soon before your marketing plan is in place and ready to rock and roll. All the dynamics need to come together right at… Read more »
Mark Lilien
11 years 11 months ago

Most new products fail because they aren’t new. They’re minor permutations of the original. Is a new scent for a cleaning product that already comes in 3 other scents really new? Is a new size bottle a new product? If your product is already made by 14 other brands, is it new or just new to you? And why bother to create something new if it’s going to cannibalize a product you’re already selling? And isn’t most market research paid for by folks who don’t want any fundamental new truths, just the “truths” that support their position?


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