It is easy to blame chief executives and senior management for not devoting enough attention to introducing new products, but that is too simplistic an explanation for why radically new products are so rare. We marketers deserve some of the blame for at least three reasons:
• Successful strategic innovations need more than a great idea.
There's no shortage of new product concepts. We are willing to bet you could come up with a handful of intriguing ones before lunch if you set your mind to it.
But new ideas by themselves are worthless. You need to move from idea to execution, and that is where the majority of companies stumble. You need a new-product development process—one that is codified, efficient, and repeatable, and which allows you to turn a notion into something you can sell.
But there aren't a lot of marketers who have tried to formalize a new-product introduction. Too often, marketers see their job as simply coming up with the idea. They leave the actual development and production to someone else and then profess to be surprised when the finished product is not exactly what they had envisaged. (This is true, by the way, whether we are talking about introducing new consumer products or selling business-to-business.) It is always nice to have someone else to blame when something goes wrong—such as, the product didn't sell. But it isn't the best use of your time, or of company resources.
In a future column, we will outline a three-step integrated process that has worked for us. (Here's a preview: It relies heavily on expertise and patience.) But for now, the takeaway point from all this is that you want to create a process that will allow you to introduce a new product the same way every time. The procedure needs to be replicable—and easily understood internally—so you can train new hires to execute it. The process should become a legacy in your organization.
• There is a shortage of Renaissance men (and women).
This builds off the previous point. As we have just seen, there are two distinct components to developing a successful new product: Coming up with the idea and then putting it into practice—i.e., executing it. We must make sure that it is produced exactly as designed and that the marketing that follows is consistent with the overall message the product is supposed to communicate. Failure can arise when we look for people who possess both skills, but in reality such people are extremely hard to find in any organization. Most people are naturally better at one or the other part of the process.
Instead of looking for someone who is good at both, it would seem more efficient to let people do what they do best. Since most companies have people who are fairly good at carrying out a mission once it is defined for them, it probably makes more sense to keep that capability in-house, and to look to outside resources to help you discover new ideas and fresh needs in the marketplace. (Full disclosure: We have been working on a business model to fix this.) Once the outside firm has unearthed those opportunities, the company can develop them.
• We tend to be fatalistic.
As marketers, we seem to go into new-product introductions with the expectation that we are going to fail. So we deal with new-product failures rather like the way an overweight person does with their problem: We periodically make half-hearted efforts to fix things…and then give up.
Just like someone who resigns himself or herself to being overweight, we conclude that there is nothing we can do to improve our batting average when it comes to introducing new products. Instead of throwing up our hands and saying "woe is me," we should be studying our past successes to see what we should do the next time we introduce something new.
That, of course, takes us full circle, underscoring as it does the need to have a replicable process to make new product development as painless as possible.
Blaming the CEO and others for not being more supportive about new product development is a waste of both time and mental energy. Look in the mirror and try to figure out how to make things better. Addressing the three problems we just talked about is a good start.