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Using market research for new product development

by Amber Bartlett.

The new television season has started and the world of Breaking Bad has come to an end. As we all bundle up for the cold weather ahead it will be interesting to see what new shows succeed, what old ones we’ll fall back in love with, and how many bags of potato chips we’ll eat.

Two shows that tend to make it onto my PVR every year are Dragon’s Den and its American cousin Shark Tank. Although the cast overlaps on both shows I prefer Dragon’s Den, there is just something more folksy and Canadian about it, which pulls at the heartstrings and hypothetical pocketbook a bit. Either way, the only thing better than a well-researched, tested and true product and pitch is a horrible idea, with no inventory sold and no market research conducted and a camera-shy guy sweating it out. In a sense it gives me a feeling of job security.

As stated in this Fast Company piece, “New product developers and marketers tend to be slaves to trends.” Over the years a lot of products have been conceived only to get produced and introduced into  the marketplace and then be shot down by consumers. Two examples that come to mind are New Coke and Crystal Pepsi.

New Coke made its introduction into the world in 1985. Taste tests for the product were conducted and focus groups preformed prior to launch.  Results were mixed; 10-12 per cent of those asked hated the idea and threatened to quit drinking Coke altogether. Others stated that it would take some getting used to and indicated they would purchase it if it made it to the marketplace (in my mind these people we fence-sitting).  In the end, the heads of marketing at Coca-Cola chose to ignore the concerns and pushed the product onto shelves on April 23. Within three months of launch, the diehard critics had won and Coca-Cola Classic was -reintroduced back into the marketplace.

Crystal Pepsi took a similar page out of the history books, one I actually remember fondly. Crystal Pepsi was introduced the same year I learned to ski, 1992-93. It has a soft spot in my heart because it reminds me of cold winter days at the ski hill and hanging out in the lodge eating curly fries and drinking Crystal Pepsi. Imagine a ten year old in a purple, one-piece snowsuit living the good life (if only I had Facebook I’d share some adorable photo).

Like New Coke, Crystal Pepsi tested their product prior to launch.  It actually tested well, and even sold well, but the hype was short lived. The product was removed from the shelves in North America within the first year.

Despite the research, both of these products failed for two very simple reasons: there was no demand for the product, and the loyalty for the original products was astronomical. We still see these types of failures in the marketplace today, but we see a lot less of them, and the implosions are a lost less costly.

The product research conducted today ranges from old school focus groups to in-home usage tests, online surveys, social media and beyond.  Marketers and researcher alike have tons of data at their fingertips available to guide them down the paths of desire, wants, needs and ultimately purchase.

The saying that something has been tried and tested has never been truer than it is today. It pays to do the legwork upfront to determine what the marketplace wants and demands. For those unwilling to do so, they will surely suffer the same fate as my dear friend, Crystal Pepsi.

[Image: Flickr user archiemcphee]