How to Achieve Agile Product Development for Physical Products

September 05, 2017

Agile product development is vital for brands wanting to stay relevant in today’s fast paced marketplace, but if you’re manufacturing a physical product this can be challenging.

While it's easier to change and adapt digital products in response to market demands, the prototypes and sampling required for new offline products can be costly and time consuming.

Challenger brands, however, must be able to move quickly if they want to seize on opportunities and compete with the bigger, more established players. It’s this agility that allows disruptive brands to win market share from the monoliths - just look at what happened to Kodak.

So how can you achieve agile product development for your business? How can you stay close to the next wave of consumers and responsive to their demands, allowing you to expand beyond your core existing customer base? How can you be proactive, always looking for new opportunities, rather than simply being reactive? How can you evolve your product offering but at the same time stay true to your core principles?

The easiest way is to use Attest, which will provide you with real-time feedback from the exact consumer segments you want to reach, helping you stay agile during product development.

We also asked 6 challenger brands how they maintain agile product development, ensuring their physical products are as dynamic as possible - keeping their existing customers happy, their competitors on their toes, and always with an eye to finding their next big win.

1. Steve Wimmer, TriNova 

TriNova is less than two years old and sells leather care, automotive and boat care products exclusively online. It was recently acquired by Gold Eagle, because of its agility in the marketplace, and the brand is outselling national competitors in several key verticals.

“For the TriNova brand we use the marketplace itself as our primary method of research. Selling online means that people place a huge amount of trust in reviews. And, while we value customer interactions through social and direct communication, we’ve found that sometimes the honest (and actionable) views come from online product reviews. We read every single review for all 30+ of our SKUs and use this information to directly inform product development.

“Aggregating this information (especially from Amazon) allows us to change formulations, add applicators, or change the instructions if they’re confusing. We vet consumer demand in this way and then formulate products that we believe resolve whatever problems the current options in the marketplace are dealing with.

“Because we deal mostly with water-based chemistry there are only so many permutations so our goal with TriNova is mostly to innovate by building a better mousetrap rather than try to gaze into the future. Because we’re so fast it doesn’t matter if a competitor gets there first – we’re not far behind.

“You can’t anticipate exactly what you’ll need to change, so I think it’s hard to be proactive in the traditional sense. You can however, set yourself up to be much more nimble than the competition. When launching a new product we stick exclusively to Amazon, and we keep our run sizes as small as possible. This provides two benefits: first, we don’t have to pull inventory from multiple locations if we change something and second, we can get the change pushed through after a few weeks instead of a few months. This is all predicated on the ability to iterate and manufacture quickly – so it helps to have efficiencies there.” 

2. Nasti Susnjara, Joan

JOAN is an epaper door display and meeting room scheduling solution developed by Visionect. Our secret is pretty straightforward: we talk to our customers, partners, distributors ... incessantly. We do conference calls, personal visits, attend tradeshows and send surveys. We never stop asking questions and gathering feedback.

“We make sure to save it in one place, categorise it and make it searchable for our whole team. That’s our way of tuning into the market and to our users. Each team member can chime in when they see a market possibility, a pattern or they have an idea.

“We also regularly discuss the gathered feedback on our development meetings and draw actions from this. We assess whether the actions align with our 20/20 vision and move from there. This way we keep focus but we always have a treasure chest of ideas ready to be implemented.

3. Imogen Curry, Dobell

“Fashion is one of the fastest paced industries, and in such a competitive market it’s vital to stay ahead of the game with product development in order to maintain your status as a style advisor. 

Dobell is an online retailer, which gives us an edge against physical stores when it comes to design and development as we are able to reduce our lead times between concept and availability due to the fact it doesn’t have to be distributed and merchandised into store.

“Being a challenger brand we find that whilst we might not have the resources larger brands do in order to be responsive, we do have the freedom to do so in an easier manner. We run everything under one roof, from design to warehouse and marketing to customer services, meaning that ideas and decisions can be passed through and acted upon extremely quickly.

“Being an online only retailer, our conversations with customers are in-depth and fluid as we are with them the whole way through the buying process, from browsing and advising online, to purchase and after care. It’s this relationship with our consumers that enables us to have such a good insight into what they want which, in line with watching out for market trends, ensures we always stay on top of our game.

“Of course we keep an eye on our competitors but we build our brand identity through us and our customers to create a unique experience for them, which is what we believe makes them so loyal to us. Fashion foresight is key to our business, but it’s not just knowing the trends, it’s knowing our customers, and that is what we do best.”

4. Chris Gronkowski, Ice Shaker

“My company Ice Shaker launched seven months ago and is a challenger brand in the shaker bottle market. I stay close to my customers by giving out samples to people that I know will use my product. I then survey them a few weeks later about how they like the product and what changes can be made. We also reach out on social media to our followers to see what they like and what we can approve upon.  

“I have been able to react quickly to this feedback. After just seven months we are already onto our second product that has taken into consideration all of the feedback from the first product. To be able to launch an initial product and then to gather feedback and come back with a second improved product all within the same year is an extremely fast turnaround for a product.

“I have learned quickly in business that you have be creative and always innovate. There is always another company or person out there that is going to try and copy your success. If you get complacent someone is going to catch up or find a way to do it better, but if you are always improving and innovating then your competition can never catch up.”

5. Greg van Praagh, Benyfit

Benyfit is premium raw dog food made from natural ingredients, so when it comes to product development, ours is really seasonal. We’re always trying to innovate and find ways we can make raw feeding easier and more accessible for people that currently feed dry and ambient products. We do a lot of research through Facebook and other social media channels to get feedback from our customers as to what they want, what they like and don’t like.

“Because we have an FMCG product, and in this day and age people's pets are like their children, having open conversations - actually speaking to your customers - is fundamental. Pushing people towards contact forms is something we don’t do, we try to go the other way and take it back, speak to an individual who can offer help and advice so their customer journey is much more personal. We find this builds brand loyalty and a community around our brand.

“The key thing for our product development is sourcing raw material; ensuring we have a consistent supply that is ethically sourced and sustainable before we can put a product into the marketplace. Because we manufacture small batches i.e. artisan, premium product we’re able to be extremely agile as we don’t have to go through lots of tiers and layers to bring a product to market. We say, ‘Here’s a niche, an opportunity,’ and we can move very quickly.

“This is important as we’re a challenger brand going up against much more established players. We are a small, family run, family funded business; we don’t have private equity and large scale investors. The way we make sure we stand out from the crowd is by making sure we always over deliver to our customers and our dogs.”

6. Jean Grant, Find Me a Gift

“At Find Me a Gift We largely focus on expanding our more popular product ranges, because if we already know a product sells well, there’s a good chance this new product will too. For example, due to the success of our personalised posters, we extended the range to include mugs, cushions and light boxes all featuring the same designs. We knew that our poster designs were popular with our customers, so we had reason to believe that the same design would be popular on homewares too.

When expanding and developing your product range, it’s important to introduce new products little and often, until the demand becomes more predictable and secure. In this way, you can get customer feedback at every opportunity, meaning that you can include this information next time you brainstorm and review your ideas for new products. If you can, try to introduce new products frequently, as this keeps your range exciting and current, which will keep customers coming back.

I would also recommend not getting too caught up in trying to develop complete product ranges. It is much better and efficient to be quick to market 2 products, then waiting longer for 6 products and missing the peak interest period. This not only allows you to start marketing your new products before any competitors, but can be used as a trial of sorts, to judge the public reaction to your products, and allow you to change direction if necessary. At Find Me a Gift, we know that customer feedback is everything, and we try to ensure that the customer is at the heart of every product we develop. It’s important to never be fearful of changing direction part way through the development process, and a committed and enthusiastic attitude about your products is essential!”

Conclusion

Keeping your ear to the ground when you’re a challenger brand is vital - this means listening to what your customers are saying and watching what your competitors are doing.

It’s this feedback that can guide your next move, enable you to identify opportunities before your rivals and to continually innovate.

Agile product development relies on understanding what the marketplace wants and needs - often before the marketplace itself actually knows. Ongoing market research, customer surveying and competitor tracking are the tools that help agile brands predict the future.

Knowing what the customer of tomorrow will want, and preparing yourself for it, ensures your brand stays relevant and avoids nasty Kodak-like surprises.

Want to achieve agile product development for your brand? Start a conversation with your customers today. Create your own customer survey and send it to your customers for free with Attest or call us on 0330 808 4746.

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