How To Unlock Your Company’s Product Development Potential

When we are not on the Appalachian roads with Digital Builders, a creative agency and non-profit cooperative, we are reflecting on my travels, projects, pitstops and coffee shops. Many of our team have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to play the start up game on the field many times, beginning careers in Silicon Valley. We’re writing a series of articles to bring you some real and interesting stories that can quickly give you a basis and tools to start your own strategic planning for growth!

In the early stages of strategic marketing and product development (i.e. 7i innovation model, stage 2 “INNOVATE”), the way in which you will eventually sell your product or service or market your division or pitch your start-up is being influenced. If your solution requires a fairly technical pitch to explain its value the best way, then you’ll eventually be thinking of recruiting technical sales people to sell it, or sales engineers to align with technical buyers and influencers.

Today, when analyzing value propositions and ROI, we study what some marketers refer to as ‘Jobs-To-Be-Done’. This is another way looking holistically at the problem you’re solving and studying how your solution can best enable your customer’s overall goal—even spilling over into looking at your customer’s customer to determine down line what the eventual overall objective is.

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Here are some first steps to get started with this type of strategic thinking:

  1. Reflect on your distinct competencies, especially those that are hardest for others to duplicate (i.e. 7i innovation, first stage INTERPRET).
  2. Collaborate using weighted rules, priorities.
  3. Push your team for what’s possible and vision the outcome of what could be enabled.
  4. Vision the experience; how each impacts different personas along the buyer’s journey.
  5. Think pragmatically about how you’re going to deliver / sell the product.
  6. Option in the paths of least resistance to avoid marketplace “noise”.
  7. Go the distance with your “ok, that’s a feature and benefit but so what?” with your team.

What’s in YOUR product?

My first marketing job was with a Japanese company and one of the world’s top 10 cable manufacturers. They make a wide assortment of wire and cables: electronic cable assemblies, magnet wire for appliances, fiber optic cables for overhead transmission cables, fiber optic cables for medical applications (thin and flexible could tie in a knot; endoscopy surgery is an application) and even undersea long distance cabling systems. They have a successful 100+ year history in business and thousands of global patents.

I was a product marketing manager for their USA electronics applications – computer and network systems industry. They prided themselves on modern manufacturing using total quality management processes that would always be in motion pushing improvements and hold the line at less than 1% defect rates. Agile perfection in iterative motion.

They were the best at what they did their other passion was golf! My x-patriot colleagues, managers, export department staff and Japanese executives and partners traveling to the USA all LOVED golf. Aside from business …it’s pretty much all we talked about. We would order a lot of new golf club sets for our company employees and partners to take back with them to Japan – probably a couple of hundred sets in the time I was there.

Two passions – wire and cable manufacturing and golf. What could be better! Today, this company manufacturers the #1 golf shaft in the world used on the pro golf tour. Since 1995, Fujikura Composites America has been at the forefront of design and development to produce the best golf shaft, debuting The Speeder 757 on the PGA Tour in 1998. They didn’t just optimize their fiber technology, but they transcended it into a whole different industry, sporting goods.

Morale of this story? Total quality manufacturing (TQM) was demonstrated on a broad scale by Japanese industry, due in large part, by the intervention of W. Edwards Deming – who has come to be viewed as the “father” of quality control, quality circles and the quality movement. (Inc. encyclopedia-tqm) When you begin with a strong core product that has an undeniable benefit despite being a basic product and you push beyond the obvious or expected, you can might uncover a new product potential or potential product that will deliver beyond your original idea (customer-value hierarchy of five service levels – Philip Kotler)

Here are team discussion points to ensure you have fleshed out all product potentials:

  1. What are the ingredients of your final product or portfolio – or if a new division then the ingredients would be your vision and mission, culture and distinct capabilities of the team, etc.
  2. Is your solution a high-tech commodity that can be transformed into a luxury brand? In our case (story above), quality was the change agent. This is a great opportunity to set premium pricing strategy which will help your brand send strong quality cues to consumers.
  3. Can you create a new category? Competition for luxury brands often comes from other categories and so their competition must be defined broadly.
  4. Logos, symbols, and packaging all transcended the product and then the brand.

Product design and development is about solving problems and enabling something, efficiently, effectively and brilliantly. Innovation is directly tied to value – a strategic value proposition is stating what is the significant customer value that’s created from solving a problem and/or enabling something.


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