Confession: While most of my work is as a content and brand consultant, the funnest, most fulling work I do is  helping startups and storied brands deliver a best-in-class new product launch strategy. In fact, most of the inquiries—by a long shot—I receive each month are for social media, public relations or new product launch strategy work. Usually, the person on the other end of the line wants my assistance in launching a new brand or a new product, or, even more exciting, a new product category, which they’re convinced will revolutionize the market. (You’d be amazed at how often I hear the word “revolutionize.”)

I listen for as long as I can, then I ask the fateful question:

“What group comprises your target market?” Silence. Then stammering ensues before I attempt to throw them a lifeline. “What did your research tell you about the market for this product? Buyer profiles? Their goals? Where they get their information? Who they are? What do they desire in a product such as this?”

In nearly every case, the answer is a veritable admission that they had not done their homework, having created a product that they desired, then assumed that the market would reward them for their guesswork.

Sadly, by the time a receive the call to help with a new product launch strategy, they have spent an average of nine months working on a project that involves up to two dozen people, including manufacturers, design, engineering and technical folks, and in some cases, have close to $1 million dollars of their own money invested.

It’s never by accident that companies find themselves in this position. In my experience, there are three reasons a new product launch misfires.

They didn’t do the research in advance of the new product launch.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that I am astounded by how few are the number of businesses devoting resources to research in advance of committing dollars to production, marketing and the like. At a very minimum you need to know the size of the market, who comprises your competition, where the holes are in that market, which similar companies could be ripe for acquisition and how similar products have fared.

The only real reason for not doing this is laziness because, as content strategy expert Kristina Halvorson adds, the best tool for audience research is “picking up the phone and asking people what they think.”

They lacked awareness of the target market.

This results from the business owner’s refusal to remove himself from the equation, preferring to look at business through the prism of his own perspective as opposed to that of his would-be customers. He thinks, “They are like me, so they like what I like, do what I do, want what I want.”

At a minimum, you should know who your would-be buyers really are, what they desire in a product, what they dislike in similar products, which features they find essential and, if such a product were available, would they (a) purchase it and (b) purchase it from you. That process cannot begin unless business owners are willing to get out of their own way.

“When it comes to marketing, you are not your customer,” says Shawn Graham, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based small-business marketing consultant. “You might dress like your customer, shop like your customer, or even act like your customer — but at the end of the day you’re always going to see things through the eyes of a marketer.”

The new product fails to meet demand.

Whenever a small-business owner says to me, “There has never been anything like it on the market,” I immediately think, “There’s probably a good reason for that.” It’s very likely there is little need for such a product. Certainly, that’s not always the case, though without research, you cannot be sure. The smart play is to look for an area of the market that’s underserved, and then create products or services that “get to the pain” of those consumers.

For example, instead of creating an entirely new class of products, why not attack the weaknesses of a popular, successful existing product? The demand is inherent. What’s more, you aren’t saddled with the expense of creating and marketing a new category of products or services. As I am wont to say, “A successful new product launch strategy need not reinvent the wheel.”

I really like how sales expert Ken Krogue puts it:

“Divert a river; don’t dig a well. … Find existing need, tap into it, shape it. Don’t try and create need.”

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