One of the most important principles I learned at Procter & Gamble is that there is a process for everything. And most of the processes were build on best practices learned from hundreds of prior experiences all across the company. The case history included successes and failures and all the “lessons learned” were captured in the company body of knowledge and relayed to us as best practices.
One of the things P&G is best at is launching winning brands. This can either be brand new products or product improvements or restages of existing products. In any case, we learned an effective “New Product Launch Process” that included Six Steps.
Step 1 – Idea Generation
Step 2 – Concept Development
Step 3 – Business Opportunity Assessment
Step 4 – Market Development
Step 5 – Market Validation
Step 6 – Product Launch
The process at P&G generally kicked off about 2 years, or 24 months, before the new product would be launched. This time line was designed for the consumer goods marketplace. When I moved to technology products at IBM I quickly realized I needed an accelerated process. With 2 to 4 or more new technology cycles per year, a 2 year process was clearly too slow.
However, what I also discovered was that because of the rapid influx of new technology and the need to introduce a couple new product cycles per year, most technology companies had gone to the other extreme. There was little to no pre-launch thinking going on. The organization was so consumed with keeping up or more accurately, not falling behind, virtually no effort was put into validating the customer need or figuring out how to position the product and communicate the advantages. The technology people made the decisions and basically threw the finished product to a marketing communications team who put some “marketing spin” on it. The mentality was that it was the technology that was important, not the marketing.
Despite trailing most of the competition despite having superior produts, we had not managed to grasp the concept that moving too fast and ignoring customer needs and marketing carried as much risk as moving too slow. It was just a different kind of risk. When you adopt the same emerging technology as the competitor and launch it on about the same timing and without clear differentiation, you go down the path towards commoditization, price wars, and the devaluation of your brand.
So, we launched an accelerated version of the Product Launch Process at IBM. The goal was to maintain speed, but also to ensure we understood the core customer value proposition and had a plan to communicate it in the market.
Here is a diagram of the Six Step Product Development & Launch Plan we adapted to meet the business needs in IBM’s Consumer Division and an example of how we used it to great success in our IBM Options business.
Here’s an overview of what we did during each of these six steps:
Idea Generation – we surveyed emerging technologies and mapped them to our understanding of customer needs, wants, desires, and frustrations. Knowing that the competitors also had access to the same technology, we tried to identify a unique and different way to position the product. An example was our IBM Keyboard. We marketed our keyboard as the “IBM Standard 104-Key Keyboard” and it came in a white box. Although it was a very durable keyboard and had the best tactile feedback, we were significantly outsold my many other brands.
We talked to consumers and found some of usability frustrations. Each time they opened a frequently used program like Microsoft Word, Outlook, or Internet Explorer, they had to go through a tedious, multi-click process to launch them. We mapped this with a new development that could allow us to give customer one-touch launching of their favorite programs.
Concept Development – We developed this idea into a full blown concept and came up with many potential names for the concept. We tested the concept with users and confirmed it was very relevant. We probed different insights into their problem and descriptions for how the product benefit solved the issue. All the while, we were looking to be unique.
Business Opportunity Assessment - we estimate the increased demand and determined pricing for the new product in order to generate a financial model. We did not have the time or resources to conduct
Market Development – Next, we had to bring the concept to life with a final name and a compelling package design since this was to be sold at retail. We finalized the name, the “IBM Rapid Access Keyboard”. This name was different and compelling because the product benefit (faster access) was built into the name. Then, we developed dynamic and engaging packaging that highlighted the product’s innovative capabilities.
Market Validation – Based on our research and the customer response to the new product and packaging we new we had a winner so now we had to develop a channel plan to get retailers interested and to generate market awareness.
Product Launch – the last step was to announce the product to the key publications, do press releases, launch it on the web and launch the advertising and retail plan.
By taking the time to follow this process, our IBM Consumer Options business went from being a tired afterthought among retailers to being among their most important. The business results were immediate as sales jumped to unprecedented levels.
To see some more of the IBM Options story visit: http://brandperiscope.com/ibm_options.html
About the Author: