When Einstein wrote about time being relative, he could have been writing about the new product development process (NPD). Nowhere has the very concept of time changed more than in the NPD cycle; while it was once acceptable to run a product through years of testing, a typical NPD cycle from ideation to launch is now just two months long!
Of course business cycles have contracted across the business universe, but the change is particularly striking in the realm of NPD, as companies scramble to beat whole new cadres of competitors to market with new products.
Here’s an example of just how dramatically the process has changed:
During my agency career, one of our clients wanted to introduce a new, updated product to its product family. So the company embarked on a process to test consumers’ responses to the idea, and especially their responses to a new ingredient in the product. We needed answers to the following questions:
Is it believable?
Is it different?
Do you like it?
(And of course) Would you buy it?
And there was another factor involved. The company already had two older versions of the product on the market. Would the new product open up a whole new market segment or simply draw market share from the existing products? Would the company simply be moving product from one side of the warehouse to another?
The product launch was seven years in the making, and in the end it quickly became clear that consumers were already attached to the existing products and not about to switch. Think about: If they’d been adhering to today’s NPD time cycle, the company could have tested 42 products in that time!
The New Watchword: Fast-fail
Here’s what product development teams have learned from experiences like the one above: It’s not important (or even possible) to be 100 percent sure a product concept and execution is viable. Rather, teams need to gather as much information as they can in a reasonable amount of time (months not years), then either move on to the next stage in the cycle or abandon the concept. Fast-fail.
But it’s important to note that it’s not enough to be fast and conform to today’s tight product development cycles. It’s still critical to have a deep understanding of how your brand is received in the marketplace. That means you still have to answer the nuts-and-bolts questions about the concept and packaging (Is it believable, likable and different, and will consumers buy it.) That’s where new automated programs like Toluna’s suite of agile New Product Development (NPD) solutions come in. The platforms enable product teams to gain deep understanding of concept and packaging viability in times never before dreamed possible. And when combined with PowerShelf, which offers real-world testing of the effectiveness of shelf placement, teams have a complete picture of a concept’s impact on the marketplace. The products also allow teams to create benchmarks, to ensure their projects are on-time and on-target.
It seems clear that the NPD cycle will continue to shrink, as companies feel unexpected competitors nipping at their heels. New, automated solutions will help them not only survive but thrive in an environment that demands answers at the speed of light.