The best way to spur business growth is through product innovation. It’s natural for the merchandise that triggered your initial growth to be replaced by another when it’s no longer trendy.
And contrary to popular belief, innovative products aren’t revolutionary. Rather, they’re evolutionary – variations of a growing theme. Consumers don’t always want brand new products. They’re looking for better adaptations of products they already love.
As an entrepreneur, your goal is to notice trends that are starting, and create products that anticipate that trend a little bit – just enough to get your customers’ attention. Creating knock-off products isn’t the answer, because you’re imitating something that’s already being sold. You’re merely following the market.
But to be successful consistently, you need to anticipate the market. Don’t worry. Product innovation isn’t always about being a genius. It’s more about being humble enough to go through the process of trial and error.
Your innovative products will attract new customers in a competitive market. And these customers will buy a lot more from you on the back-end, as long as you present them with the right buying opportunities.
For product innovation to work, you have to create a culture of innovation. The most effective way to do this is to build a creative team and brainstorm together.
Here are the traits of a great brainstorming session.
A Group of Three
At least three people are needed to brainstorm product ideas. If you only have two, you’ll say one thing, but your partner will say another. Eventually, the discussion will stall.
A third person can represent an audience, forcing you to present your ideas in their best form.
A Maximum of Six
There’s a limit to the number of people you can group together efficiently. Keeping your brainstorming sessions to a maximum of six people speeds up the process. And speed is an crucial part of the innovative process.
Nothing important happens until the final moments of the session. Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of the value from a meeting will come from the final 20 percent of the time.
To develop ideas that have a chance at success, they must feel like breakthroughs. When ordinary ideas are given, keep asking “How can we improve on that?” until you get a great answer.
Counterintuitive as it seems, the best way to encourage a flow of ideas is to establish rules. Use the following.
- Be specific with suggestions. General comments confuse people and are a waste of time.
- No specific criticism. Figure out whether the people in the group like the idea or not, and move on. Criticism is counterproductive, and there’s no time for it.
- Be positive. Say something constructive about every idea – even the ones that aren’t very good. Rather than saying “Here’s what’s wrong with your idea,” ask, “How can we make it better?”
- Record the entire session. This gives you the luxury of referring to the conversation that led up to the “Aha!” moment.
- After an innovative idea is suggested, demand that a short advertising piece summarizing it be written within 24 hours. This ensures that the idea is accurately reflected in the advertisement. Brilliant, fresh ideas are like fresh dairy products. They go bad over time.
In addition to building a creative team, another tool that will help you innovate is the product development cube.
Three Dimensions of Product Development
The three dimensions of your new product include price, product type, and your unique selling proposition. Suppose you’re in the business of selling basketball equipment. Here’s what your dimensions would look like.
Price: You have three levels of pricing – inexpensive, moderate, and expensive.
Product Type: You sell basketball hoops, basketball training aids, and basketballs.
USP: You have three basketball pros who will endorse your products – Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, and Ray Allen.
So with three prices, three products, and three USP’s, you already have 27 possible products.
Using this method is an easy way to realize just how many possibilities are out there. Coming up with 50 product ideas won’t seem overwhelming when you break it down this way.
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