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Bringing a product to market can be daunting. One of the reasons so many products fail is because entrepreneurs don’t take the necessary steps to plan and prepare. “Before you invest time and money into an idea, you need to confirm your product is something people want,” says Liz Long, Founder of Learn To Make A Product, a business accelerator for entrepreneurs with physical products that has assisted clients such as Martha Stewart, Guess Jeans, Lexus and Discovery Channel.
Here are six things Long suggests entrepreneurs consider before diving into a product launch.
1. Market research
One of the first steps in a product launch is to thoroughly research the market for your product. This means researching your target market and potential customers. It includes identifying and analyzing the needs of the market, the market size and your competition. You can acquire this information by relying on market research resources or conducting your own research through focus groups and in-depth interviews with consumers.
Long suggests using phone and email surveys to talk to potential customers about your product concept. “Find out if the product is something they would buy, the price they would pay, the design features that matter most and more,” she advises. “A hundred conversations with potential customers is a great target, and no less than 20. If you’re having trouble getting responses, consider an incentive like a gift card drawing for respondents.”
2. Establish proof of concept
It’s important to test your concept or idea to determine whether it can become a reality. In this stage of the process, you must demonstrate that there is a need in the market and you can garner a return on investment. This involves compiling a wide range of data and information such as customer feedback, competitor research, business analysis and projected financials.
Significant time and effort must go into this step of the process, as you want to ensure all your investments will be worth the effort. “In addition to establishing proof concept, gathering feedback will help you refine your original offering, and can even generate a pivot to a completely new and better product idea,” Long explains. “It’s not a step you want to skip.”
3. Finding the right factory
The success of your product depends on finding the right factory to manufacture it. While cost will likely be a major factor, it’s not the only criterion to consider. It will also be important to determine whether domestic or overseas manufacturing is right for your product.
“Benefits of U.S, production include smaller minimums, quicker turnaround times and the potential to appeal to value-based buyers,” says Long. “Overseas production may be a better choice if you are in a price-sensitive category or if most of the factories that make your particular item are based outside of your country. For example, footwear can be difficult to produce in the U.S. since there are few shoe factories.”
The next step Long suggests is to locate a reliable sourcing database to find factory partners. “When searching for partners, pay attention to three main things: minimum order quantity, experience in your product category and the ability to visit the factory,” she adds.
In order to choose a factory, you’ll also want to determine whether ethical considerations are a priority. The factory that manufactures your product is an extension of your company, and you want it to reflect your company values.
4. Build a unique brand identity
“Creating a compelling brand experience is just as important as creating a great product,” implores Long. “Remember that consumers are savvy and exposed to many brands and products each day. A unique and engaging identity is how you set yourself apart.”
According to a 2017 report by Cone Communications, 87% of consumers will buy a product solely because of brand values. The report also indicates that 78% of consumers want companies to address important social justice issues. However, consumers can see through phony brand identities. It’s not enough to build a brand around what’s trending. Consumers want to relate to a unique brand that is authentic.
“A common mistake is to spend a majority of your budget developing your product and buying inventory and not leave enough room for things like a great logo or persuasive copywriting,” Long cautions. “I recommend allocating $5,000 to $15,000 for tasks like graphic design, messaging help and web design, depending on your needs and the vendors you work with. You can obviously spend much more on these services, but this price range gets you in the door with some great creatives.”
5. Try iterative marketing
Just as consumers are embracing companies with unique brand identities, they’re also interested in engaging in marketing efforts that go beyond traditional campaigns. Iterative marketing is about creating a conversation.
“The most successful makers we work with understand the importance of iterative marketing,” encourages Long. “Rather than try too many things at once or plow all of their money into a big ambitious marketing campaign, they start narrow in one channel and work on tweaking and perfecting their approach before moving on to the next thing. “I suggest putting your marketing options in order of priority, based on what you’re naturally good at, where your customers spend the most time and where your competitors are the least active. Then go one by one and methodically test your efforts. It may be that a marketing strategy just doesn’t get traction, and that’s OK. Move on rather than getting bogged down. The beauty of today’s world is that you have lots of options to find customers.”
This model is data-driven and persona-centric, giving companies the power to quickly redirect their efforts when they’re not working.
6. Choose the right sales channels
When selecting sales channels for your product, there are multiple options to choose from, such as personal selling, sales outsourcing, retail, direct marketing, ecommerce and wholesale. And if the pandemic has taught entrepreneurs anything, it’s the value of having multiple sales channels. According to an October 2020 report by software recommendation platform GetApp, 92% of small businesses in the U.S. pivoted between March and June. The report indicates that 58% of small businesses shifted to a new online delivery channel.
As entrepreneurs and inventors, we strive to be innovative. It’s exciting to dream about the possibilities and bring brilliant ideas to life. The journey through launching a product can be lengthy, but with proper planning and foresight, it can also be a fun and lucrative adventure.