What problem are you solving?

The first step in creating successful new products is determining the market need. This is true whether you want to be “first to market” with a unique product, or a “fast-follower” that executes better than the market leader.

The key to having products that consumers purchase repeatedly is to solve a problem, or satisfy a need. Said another way, as Clayton Christensen, at Harvard Business School puts it, “What JOB does the product do?” Consumers are always creating “work-arounds”. I know people who mix fish oil into yogurt because they can’t stand the burping 2 hrs later, but they want to follow their doctor’s advice. There are mothers who are making their special concoctions of home-made diaper cream to help soothe extreme diaper rash. Consumers are always looking for something to fill a need. Our job, as product developers, is to try to figure out what they want, and sometimes more importantly, why, they want it.

This thinking is nothing new. For years, we’ve been talking about selling the benefits, not the features. Does Mrs. Jones care whether a new joint product has the latest, greatest new ingredient in it? No. She only cares that it works better, or faster, than her old product. An ingredient is not a benefit.

I was talking with a group of local growers last week. “Local” is a hot word right now. What “problem” does “local” solve? We can talk about reducing green footprints, and being more environmental, but at the end of the day, support of local agriculture and artisan products supports the basic human need to be connected, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. There is a reason Facebook and Twitter are so successful. Social media provides a way to be constantly in touch, knowing what our friends (and celebrities) are up to.

How do we determine what benefits are important to our target audience? What problem needs solving? What “job” needs to be done?” We need to get into the mind of our target consumer. We need to talk with our consumers, as well as those who are NOT our consumers about what they do and why they do it, why they choose some products over others. We need to take the time to watch how consumers create work-arounds, observing how they approach their daily health/wellness challenges. Then we can figure out how to provide the foods and supplements that really do make a difference.

This type of research isn’t reserved for Fortune 500 companies. Strategically thinking through new product introductions BEFORE development is imperative if we are to responsibly manage resources, regardless of company size or budget.

Published: NHI On Demand June 2011