New ideas for products and services are conceived every day — yet many of them fail because they weren’t properly introduced to the market. Market research helps ensure both that the product launch will hit the ‘right buttons’ in the consumer, and ensures that the product idea itself addresses the (often unspoken) desires of the customer.
In general, we can speak of seven different steps in the pre-launch research process: understanding the market and the competition, targeting the customer, devising a unique value proposition, determining marketing strategy, testing the product and overall approach, rolling out the campaign, and keeping track of the overall lifecycle.
Let’s consider these steps of market research before launching a new product in more detail.
1. Know your market — and your competitors
Market research often reveals counter intuitive facts about your market, even if you think you are already well acquainted with it. For example, research has shown that ‘snacks’ are often used as a meal substitute, and that therefore successful confectionery-type snack products tend to be more ‘foody’ than one might expect: ingredients like cereal, peanuts, biscuits, and fruit which help break up the overall chocolate are very well received by customers.
Similarly, the beginning of a product launch also means understanding your competitors, and what products and services they have on offer. Though you might believe there’s currently no competition for your new product, put yourself in the shoes of your customers and consider what they could buy instead of what you’re planning to offer. Review those competitors’ marketing materials, and evaluate how your new offering will stand up against what’s available. Where will you excel? Which companies or products are the greatest threat to a successful launch?
2. Target your customer
In order to get maximum results form your marketing with minimal cost, it’s crucial to focus on those prospects most likely to buy from you. Perhaps they are currently buying a similar product and will appreciate your new offering’s added features. The best customers perceive they have a need for your product, have the ability to buy it, and have already demonstrated a willingness to make the purchase (perhaps by buying from the competition). In general, it’s much easier to fill an existing need than it is to create a new one.
3. Devise your Unique Value Proposition
Why will customers want to purchase from you, compared with the competition? What are you offering that makes you stand out? Not only does your new product or service have to be unique and meet your customers’ desires and needs, but you must be able to communicate why and how it does so. This is your Unique Value Proposition, and an excellent way to come up with one is by speaking with customers to see what they value
4. Determine your marketing strategy
At this point you will have enough information on your market to understand how to best market and sell your product. What channels should you use — via retailers? Catalogues? Online? Using multiple channels is, as most marketers are aware, an excellent idea. Also remember to consider direct response marketing, which can offer extreme levels of ROI.
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5. Test your product and overall approach
How will your product fly when your customers have it in their hands? Ultimately the customer’s response will determine which features to emphasise and which marketing approach to use, so product testing is crucial. Product testing can be as simple as having a research participant test a single product (monadic testing) and fill out a survey on the “key performance indicators” like likelihood of purchase. Or, it can go into the various sensory qualities (appearance, flavour, etc) and make use of sophisticated video recording and observational techniques.
You should also test your marketing message and marketing materials. With all the money you’ll be spending on advertising, it’s worth making sure your ads and graphics and packaging will be well-received by the customers. Testing here might range from traditional focus groups to mall intercept studies and online research. Whatever methods you use, you should not finalise your marketing materials until testing is complete.
6. Roll out your marketing campaign
Once it comes time to launch, you’ll want to employ both advertising and public relations to maximise the impact of your new product launch. Media relations, for example, can help you get articles and press coverage on the new product, or build buzz that drives interest in the new item. Whichever you choose, of course, be sure the product is completely available for purchase — if the product is not yet in stock when the coverage hits, consumers may be disappointed.
Market research plays a role here too, of course: especially in the first few weeks, you’ll want to monitor the results of your campaign and adjust your techniques to focus on those that work best.
7. Monitor your product lifecycle
Finally, as your product matures you’ll start to see points of diminishing return that mean it’s time to alter your marketing message, revise the packaging, alter the product itself, or even start to phase it out to make room for your next big idea.
Have you used market research before? What new discoveries did you make about your customers? Tell us in the comments below!
Alex Pejak is an economist currently working on a few projects in Australia. Despite having a degree in Finance, Banking and Insurance, market research has always been her passion. Her latest project was research on the 11 most innovative food and drink packaging designs of 2014/15 done for creative market research agency Play MR.