Keys to Success in New Product Development

by Clark Driftmier

by Clark Driftmier

 “To put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world”


Woman Shopping Organic Food.jpg

Many of us have dreams about creating fabulous new products and introducing them into the market. The promise of entrepreneurship in new products is exciting, even intoxicating. At the same time, new product development can seem like a daunting, risky, and downright scary enterprise. There are indeed many complexities, risks, twists and turns on the road to new product success. However, experience has provided a few important “should-do’s” and keys to success that are relevant to almost any new product process. In this blog, we look at several keys to successful new product development, especially as it relates to natural, organic and clean-label foods.

1.       Study Consumer Culture – relentlessly:

·       The successful product developers that we know are generally quite well read and attuned to contemporary consumer culture. These folks are students of modern society. They follow trends daily, visit stores, look at products, taste samples, buy interesting products, analyze packaging, read articles, view ads, study commercials, attend conferences, kibitz with colleagues, etc.

·       The study of culture is a constant process - - every day and multiple times per day. During this study, the developer continually asks and re-asks the question “Why?” in order to gain meaningful insights into the infinitely complex nature of behavior.

·       From this development of knowledge and insight, the developer then applies key learnings to the new product development project at hand, seeking to bind the attributes of the new product to the key learnings about consumer culture.

2.       There is no replacement for your personal passion and commitment:

·       American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

·       In our experience, new product development is most compelling and successful when the leaders / creators are personally impassioned and invested in the mission of their products.

·       Enthusiasm is a vital, propelling force. It cannot be faked, nor can it be inhibited or suppressed. The passion for your products and the mission of your enterprise will flow from your heart, from your inner drive to bring your product to life and your desire to bring something new into the world.

3.       To develop great ideas, stare out the window, daydream, and don’t be afraid to let your mind wander.

·       Creative thinking is non-linear. It’s a process in which the mind synthesizes a broad and diverse range of ideas and thoughts, often with “jumps” from one seemingly unrelated idea to another idea that is highly relevant to the creative process.

·       Creativity is not helped by our overstimulated, SmartPhone addicted, “always on” culture and environment. We seek to be busy, we often crave it, but “busy” is the enemy of Creativity. In fact, we generally do our best creative thinking during quiet solo moments, often while engaged in repetitive or mundane actions like walking, driving, cleaning the dishes etc.

·       For example, many of Beethoven’s best musical ideas came to him during his regular daily walks through Vienna.(1)

·       Research into creativity has shown that periods of quiet daydreaming, even boredom, are linked to greater creativity.(2)

4.       Work very small groups, or even alone, to develop your ideas, but use larger groups to achieve consensus and buy-in:

·       Often, large interdisciplinary teams are formed to develop new products. However, the best work in new product development often occurs in much smaller groups of 2-3 key individuals, or even by a single creative driver.

·       Researchers have found that speed, productivity and quality of ideas are greater when individuals work alone or in very small groups.(3)

·       Thus, the actual creative and productive work on a new product project will often be done by one lead or champion, perhaps with 1 or 2 other key co-creators. A larger team generally does not move faster, create better ideas or have a substantially better outcome.

·       That said, there are almost always larger groups and key leaders in the organization whose buy-in is required for the project to be “green-lit” or approved to move forward. Thus, the individual or the small development team should engage and solicit the larger stakeholders “early and often” to keep all key constituents supportive and to ensure continuous enthusiasm and support for the project.

5.       Develop 5 times as many prototypes as you think you need – Then double it.

·       We often find that new product teams stop their prototype development too early in the process. For various reasons they slow down or cut short the process, not pushing the product sufficiently through all of the steps needed to create some truly outstanding.

·       Prototypes begin in what we call Zone 1, which we might describe as: “Has potential but isn’t right yet; not at all good enough to introduce.” With more development and improvement, the prototypes progress and enter Zone 2: “Looking better and has promise, but not ready for Prime Time.” Unfortunately, many development projects stop in Zone 2 and never progress to something that is truly excellent in taste, texture, color etc. The truly “wow” products are those which are taken much further into what we call Zone 3, with truly excellent results, based on many additional prototypes.

·       We know of one small organic brand that developed more than 85 prototypes for its formula before the team finally said, “Yes, we are ready.”

·       Looking again to Beethoven, the famous first movement to his 5th symphony (“Da-Da-Da-DUH”) was published only after Beethoven had made more than 20 complete rewrites. Beethoven’s written notes and scores show massive crossing out, eliminating sections, adding sections, re-doing, re-doing the re-do, frustrations, inspirations, further frustrations, etc. until the finished masterpiece was ready for performance. Indeed, the continual iterative process of evaluation and improvement changed a very good work into a masterpiece.

·       The need for extensive, iterative enhancements and improvements applies to branding and package design as well as to formulas.

·       We recommend that development teams be self-critical, brutally honest, relentless and somewhat obsessive in this process, pushing continually to reach the very highest state of product development.

·       Consider this: it’s challenging enough to succeed even when everything about the product is outstanding, so why would one choose to stop short of attaining the highest level of development and the greatest promise for the product?

6.       Recognize both the values and the limitations of consumer research:

·       Consumer research is vital to help optimize the organoleptic qualities of the product and to help create a final prototype with broad appeal.

·       Consumer research can be done with a range of formats, but at all times the protocols should be set up to ensure valid results and to prevent bias or groupthink.

·       One challenge with natural and organic products is that the product itself is sometimes “ahead” of the understanding of most consumers, who may not be familiar with the product or its benefits and thus cannot make good judgments. Examples of this would include products such as acai drinks and kombucha, both of which were entirely unknown to mainstream consumers at the time of their introductions. Consumer testing the first acai and kombucha products with mainstream consumers would result in blanks looks, misunderstandings, confusion and rejection. In these cases, acai and kombucha products actually began their roll-out very modestly among a small cohort of savvy early adopters, in a limited high-knowledge natural foods environment, then built distribution into a broader, more mainstream retail environment as the products became known to a wider audience. This progression follows the “Diffusion of Innovations” theory, developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962 (4) and widely known in the tech world. This theory maps out the process by which innovative ideas diffuse out over time from a small core to the broader society.

7.       Once the Herculean task of new product development is complete, it is followed by the Olympian task of market roll-out. This topic is worthy of its own blog post, which we will provide to readers in the near future.

New product development is inspiring, infuriating, challenging and utterly essential. Many difficulties and roadblocks will occur during the process, but surmounting those roadblocks helps to separate “the wheat from the chaff” and ensure that the final product is unique, of highest quality and of value to the market. In the words of one of our business professors: “Be glad that it’s difficult. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and there wouldn’t be any money in it.”

Clark Driftmier is Managing Director at Strobus Consulting, which assists clients with new product development and go-to-market business development strategies.

(1) Maynard Solomon, "Beethoven." G. Schirmer, Inc. 1979

(2) Mann and Cadman, “Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?” (Creativity Research Journal, May 2014)

(3) University of Calgary, "Working Alone May Be the Key to Better Productivity, New Research Suggests." (ScienceDaily, 21 February 2008)

(4) Rogers, Everett, "Diffusion of Innovations." Simon & Schuster, 1962.