New product? Here’s how to get it right first time

Dougie Hastings, Director

Whether it’s sushi or socks or sustainable energy, it doesn’t matter what kind of new product or service you want to launch, the message remains the same across the board. Now, more than ever, you cannot afford to get it wrong, and you really do need your customers to help you get it right before you launch. Why? Because anyone who’s delivered a product on a national scale without talking to customers first will tell you it can get very costly, very quickly – and it won’t just cost you money.

A closer look at hospitality provides some context. Restaurant groups in particular face a drastically changed and incredibly competitive landscape as they emerge from the pandemic slump. For many, demand is high, which sounds great, but when you layer staff shortages and the implications of Brexit on top of something that is already a big ask, meeting this demand is a much greater challenge than before. A number of groups have consequently been sold, downscaled or rebranded as they try to re-establish who they are and what they stand for.

With all of this in mind, can you imagine the stress of launching a new national or global product if you haven’t asked customers what they think of it, or even if they need it, beforehand?

Serve up the right dish

Let’s stick with hospitality as our example. Say a new dish is trialled in a development kitchen. It tastes great and gets signed off, but the product that actually gets delivered to restaurants isn’t made in a development kitchen, so it might not taste the same. There are other variables to consider too, such as how it defrosts in a busy kitchen environment or how it fares in a fridge that’s opened multiple times a day. Who’s to say the product that customers are served isn’t different to the one signed off at development stage?

On the flip side, the product could be a resounding success, but the price point is too high. So, even though a dish is super popular, it can create other problems. Customers might skip dessert or the second glass of wine, for example, to compensate for the extra cost. It’s essential that you know what’s going on around the product, how people feel about it, respond to it, and the knock on effects of them buying it. This is invaluable insight needed prior to product launch and not after it’s already out there.

Invest in the best chance of success

The solution is this. Ask your customers what they think of the new product, how it makes them feel and what motivates them to buy it. The same approach is applicable to any product or service you’re selling or want to sell. Instead of putting it out there on a national scale and hoping for the best, run a trial with a smaller percentage of your customer base and listen to what they have to say about it, because what they say matters more than ever in this post-pandemic landscape. The pressure really is on to get it right first time.

Which is probably why the re-opening of the hospitality industry saw some brands put their faith in ‘radical change’ as a way to rebuild their business. And yet, innovation, rebranding or any form of change is not worth pursuing unless customers genuinely want it – unless you have the insight that tells you it’s going to lead your business somewhere better. This is why investing in customer insight gives your business the best chance of success.

Be the best at what you do

The landscape has changed for all businesses, not just hospitality, and adapting to it is an ongoing process, a constant evolution. You have to keep checking in with your audience, your people, your product, your strategy. You have to keep asking is this right for our customers? Is it right for our business? Can we operationalise it? Will it make money? But you can’t answer these questions from a development kitchen or head office. Get your people involved in the process, since they’re your stakeholders too. They make, market and deliver your products and services, and if they’re also working with customer insight, what they do will be so much easier and more fulfilling.

It’s a win-win. Happy people plus happy customers builds brand equity. It signals to the market that whatever you do, you’re doing it with the market’s wants and needs in mind – just remember that while speed is of the essence right now, you’ll have more impact much quicker if you do the groundwork prior to launch. You don’t have to be first in order to beat the competition, you just have to do whatever you do but do it right.