So you want to launch a new product? Here are a few things to think about…
Launching a new and successful product is an amazing feeling! When those sales numbers come in and they exceed your expectations… When it’s the featured product on some popular TV show like Today or Good Morning America… It doesn’t get much better than that!
However, there’s a lot that goes into planning a successful launch. And I mean long before the product ever hits the shelves. Marketing is a critical part of making a new product succeed, and we have a number of helpful posts about the marketing aspect. For a change, I wanted to talk to you about some other aspects of getting a product to market. Any one of the following topics could warrant book after book (and already do) with more detail; this is meant to provide a quick overview of some topics that are often overlooked.
Start with a great idea.
We all hear that one a lot, I know. But what really constitutes a great idea? Every entrepreneur dreams of being the next Steve Jobs (of Apple fame) or Elon Musk (Tesla, Space-X). But a great idea doesn’t always have to be so complex. Think about Ed Lowe. Never heard of him? He invented kitty litter in 1947 and made millions on a product that we pretty much take for granted today.
A successful product can be one that makes people lives easier, or entertains them, or sometimes simply fills a gap that we never imagined existed (fidget spinners come to mind). Sometimes, it’s simply an improvement on an existing concept. However, if you don’t act on it, it’s as if it never happened. I don’t know how many times I have had an idea for a new product. Then sat on it. A year or two later, someone else launches the same idea – and gets rich.
Like I just noted above, if you wait too long, someone else may come up with the same concept. When you have an idea, clearly document your idea, and do your research. Look around on-line, and see if there is something comparable.
If there isn’t, you’re ready for the next step.
If there is, you may need to refine your idea to make it unique.
And sometimes, unfortunately, what we thought was new and amazing has actually been around for a while, but we have simply never seen it. That doesn’t mean it’s time to give up – it just means keep working on ideas!
Patenting your product can actually require a reasonable investment in time and some expense, but it also yields huge benefits. Two of the biggest are that 1) it legally protects your idea, and 2) it reduces the risk of someone claiming you stole their idea. Sometimes, your idea has already been proposed and patented by someone else, but it was never acted on or produced. Being aware of this up front can avoid a costly lawsuit later.
Now that your idea is protected, it’s time to answer that age-old question: if you build it, will they come? Just because you think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean that everyone else will. Market research can be a great tool for determining if your product actually appeals to your target audience. By asking the right questions, you can not only find out if people are interested, but you can determine the sweet spot for pricing, optimal sales channels, and more. You can even determine what enhancements or modifications could maximize your chances for success.
If it’s possible to produce concept prototypes of your product relatively inexpensively, putting a physical example in front of potential consumers can help immensely. If not, sketches or 3D renderings can help consumers get a feeling for what you are proposing. The relatively low cost of 3D printing these days makes the creation of simple prototypes within reach for most product designers.
Ideally, you have had a chance to some preliminary research into manufacturing options early on, but this is where you can really start determining whether you can produce your invention at a cost that allows you to sell it at a price that will sell, covers costs, and will still generate a reasonable profit. Whether you plan to have every piece handmade in a family-owned shop, or mass-produced in a factory, knowing your options is critical.
There are, of course, a lot of considerations to keep in mind when you think about manufacturing options, as well, but it is definitely something to think about early in the process. There are also organizations that can help you connect with a suitable manufacturer, whether you are looking for a local supplier or an overseas manufacturer. Weigh the pros and cons of each option – sometimes the reduced cost of manufacturing a product overseas is more than offset by transport costs, quality challenges, and even import tariffs.
Something that many entrepreneurs tend to forget about when launching a new product is making sure it will meet a multitude of rules and regulations on everything from the materials it’s made of to how much energy it uses. The type of product and where it will be sold can also dictate what type of tests it has to pass, what kind of support documentation is needed, and more.
For products sold in the United States, especially if they are electrically powered, being UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed is pretty much a must. In Europe, meeting IEC standards is a requirement for almost everything. There are thousands upon thousands of pages of requirements and regulations out there; wading through them is a daunting task. However, there are a number of companies that can be contracted to help navigate all the requirements.
Product Support Information
We mentioned support documentation above. Virtually every product is going to need some type of documentation to inform users and consumers, and to meet government and regulatory agency guidelines.
For example, to meet UL requirements, a product must include basic assembly, operating, and care instructions, as well as any potential safety information needed to warn about reasonable potential hazards that the product can create. Regulatory agencies in other regions have similar guidelines.
This information not only serves to meet government requirements, but also to help your customers use the product effectively. When consumers find a product easy to use, and can easily find the answers to questions about the product, their satisfaction level goes way up. Consumers shouldn’t need to go on a scavenger hunt just to use your product. If it’s too hard to use, they may return it, and likely will share their negative experiences with others.
You have your production plan figured out, you have all your certifications in place, and you have created at least preliminary versions of any instructions that a consumer might need. A very helpful next step is usability testing. If you have functional prototypes or early production samples, putting them in front of people like your target customers can provide invaluable feedback.
Usability testing can answer a lot of questions: Does it work as intended? Is it intuitive for users? Does it hold up to the expected wear and tear? What you learn from usability testing can help boost your product’s chance of success, or avoid an embarrassing failure. It gives you a chance to tweak your design, whether it’s changing how controls are labeled to make them more intuitive or modifying part of the design to make assembly, operation easier. All before you have a million units sitting in a warehouse somewhere…
Distribution and Sales Channels
How do you plan to distribute and sell your product? Will you sell it locally, online, through retailers, or some combination of the above? Do you plan to handle your own shipping, or work through a shipping company or fulfillment house? These are additional areas that will typically evolve as your product becomes better known. What starts as a local offering may become a nationally-known brand if it catches on and finds the right sales channels – being able to adapt to these changes is critical.
As noted in the introduction, this is meant to provide a quick overview of some important things to keep in mind as you consider launching a new product. Many may seem like common sense, but you would be amazed how many potentially great products fail, simply because the inventor didn’t take a process for manufacturing into mind, or didn’t plan for the necessary regulatory requirements. Or even worse, because the inventor didn’t protect their idea with a patent, or didn’t test it to make sure what seemed intuitive for themselves was equally intuitive for the target consumer.