Avoiding new product McFailures

Developing a successful new product is a tricky task. Some estimates suggest that as many as 90% of new products fail within the first three years.

Developing a successful new product is a tricky task. Some estimates suggest that as many as 90% of new products fail within the first three years.

Even McDonald’s hasn’t had a really successful new product since the Chicken McNugget was launched over 20 years ago. In that span came the McDLT, the McLean, the McPizza – McFailures all of them. And while McDonald’s new Lighter Choices menu has enjoyed some early success I doubt that it will last.

The reason? McDonald’s has tried to capitalize on shifts in the market place – the popularity of pizza, healthier food choices – and as a result has shifted its focus away from its core customers. McDonald’s customers want convenience, taste, and affordability. When McDonald’s moves away from these core customer values it set itself up for failure. The McPizza ignored convenience, the McLean taste, and the Lighter Choices menu sacrifices both taste and affordability. McDonald’s succeeds when it develops from the customer out rather than from the market in.

So what can McDonald’s and other marketers do to improve their luck? Here are a few suggestions.

Every stage of product development should focus on your customers. Ask as many questions as possible. You should be able to zero in on your customers until you can actually picture them as one individual and get inside their head.

I find role-playing is a great way to get inside your customer’s head. I like to think about how, as my customer, I would interact with the product in the context of my customer’s everyday life.

Don’t just develop a product for them; develop it with them. If your budget is tight and you can’t do extensive market research, do some informal information gathering. I find friends and relatives can be an invaluable resource when they fit your customer’s profile.

Ask questions based on real-life scenarios. Don’t ask your customers what kind of car they would like, ask them what they would buy. They may tell you they want a Mercedes when all they can afford is a Hyundai.

Never fall in love with your product. It should be your customers – not you – who will determine what your product ends up as.

Pretend you don’t have any money to market your product. How well would your product appeal to your customers based solely on its own merits? Too many products, it seems, are developed using the marketing campaign as a crutch. The attitude being that as long as you promote the hell out of a product it will be successful. This approach is destined to failure.

Don’t be afraid to play follow the leader. Many product development gurus strongly advise against developing copycat products. I say there are many cases where it makes complete sense. If there’s room to grow the market, and the product falls within your company’s core business, why wouldn’t you copy a success? Nintendo dominated the video game console market for almost a decade when Sony launched PlayStation. The resulting competition only grew the market further. In fact Sony played follow the leader so well it ended up taking the leader’s spot.

Don’t change for the sake of change. We all know what happened to Coke when it messed with something that worked. If your product is still meeting consumer needs, provides a perceived value over competing products and continues to benefit the company, then you might want to do almost nothing. Evolution is good, however, as long as the essence of your product remains the same. The Sony Walkman has evolved from a cassette player to a CD player to an mp3 player, but all along it has stayed true to its ‘portable music listening device’ roots.

Tell people about it. You should be planning your marketing program before your product is ready to launch. And when you launch you’ve got to go big. Xerox invented the personal computer yet failed to make a success of it.

There are always going to be factors you could never have predicted – economic downturns, shifts in social values, political changes, and technological advances. So grab your rabbit’s foot, and good luck!

Arie Opps is currently marketing and communications officer for a national charity for children and youth. His background includes marketing research, branding, product development and Web development. He can be reached at aopps@yahoo.com.