Generating new product ideas is a creative task that requires a specific way of thinking. Gathering ideas is easy, but generating good ideas is another story. Examples of internal sources are:
- Basic research: many companies, such as DuPont, have several scientists who are assigned the task of developing new product ideas and related technology.
- Manufacturing: people who manufacture products often have ideas about modifications and improvements, as well as completely new concepts.
- Salesperson: company salespeople and representatives can be a most helpful source of ideas, since they not only know the customer best, but they also know the competition and the relative strengths and weaknesses of existing products.
- Top management: the good top executive knows the company's needs and resources, and is a keen observer of technological trends and 0f competitive activity.
External sources of new product ideas are almost too numerous to mention. A few of the more useful are:
- Secondary sources of information: there are published lists of new products, available licenses, and ideas for new product ventures.
- Competitors: good inferences about competitive product development can be made on the basis of indirect evidence gained from salespeople and from other external sources, including suppliers, resellers, and customers.
- Customers: frequently customers generate new product ideas or at least relay information regarding their problems that new and improved products would help to solve.
- Resellers: a number of firms use "councils", or committees made up of representative resellers to assist in solving various problems, including product development.
- Foreign markets: many companies look toward foreign markets, especially western Europe, because they have been so active in product development.
There are probably as many approaches to collecting new product ideas as there are sources. For most companies, taking a number of approaches is preferable to a single approach. Still, coming up with viable new product ideas is rare (see Newsline).
Newsline: New ideas are rare
New product ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. It is exciting when a new product idea comes from out of the blue, prototypes test well among consumers, and purchase interest scores
are off the charts. But relying on the "anywhere and everywhere" approach will not do in the long run. What is required for product development are methodologies that enable us to
systematically discover new product opportunities.
One such method is the category appraisal, which points to new product opportunities within an existing category and sometimes to opportunities in a new, adjacent category. The objective of the category appraisal study is to this what makes the category "tick". Questions to ask include:
- What drives consumer acceptability?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each product in the category?
- What are the opportunities to outperform existing products?
- To what extent does brand equity play a role in product acceptability?
- Does collected data point to unexplored regions of the category "space" that new products can successfully fill?
An example from the confectionery industry illustrates this technique. The mission was to identify the properties of a new candy item for consumers who buy candy in supermarkets, convenience
stores, and movie theaters. A database of in-depth sensory profile of a wide range of candy products and "liking scores" of each of those products was created. The researchers shopped 'till
they dropped. They thoroughly filled a sensory space in terms of texture, flavor, size, and appearance with 25-30 products.
A questionnaire was developed that required quantitative ratings (such as 100 per cent scale rating) of product attributes that were unique to some products. There were questions about hardness, chewiness, crispness, flavor intensity, degree of fruit flavor, sweetness, tartness, color, and many more. Overall liking for each product was also measured.
How well each product and brand performed—the overall liking score for each product—was not an objective of the study. The point was to discover the most generalized drivers of consumer acceptability in the confectionery category. Products were ranked by their performance and key sensory properties. Close study of the data revealed that these consumers were not the least bit influenced by brand. Overall taste was the dominant factor. Second, a new chocolate product held the most promise. Of all flavors explored, chocolate captivated consumers most. In fact, the ideal product is chocolate—filled chocolates with chocolate dipping sauce. 1