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New product research

New product research NPD:testing beakersProduct testing is not just about behind-the-scenes R&D, it's about making sure your product is developed in a way that meets the needs of your customers

Done well, product research lets you understand what customers really want, allowing you to tailor your product offering to meet demand and giving you a real competitive edge.

New product research helps you refine product design and features before committing yourself to expensive product development costs. Regular product testing and market research can drive innovation over time, keeping you one step ahead of the competition.

New product development and product research

Product research is a vital part of new product development. At every stage of the process, product research can help you identify key issues and avoid expensive mistakes.

Initial product research can be used to evaluate new ideas. Testing a concept can help you discard unpromising ideas, allowing you to concentrate investment of time and money on products with the best chance of achieving commercial success. It's also well worth creating a "minimum viable product", a simple version that you can use to get customer feedback at the earliest possible stage.

As the new product development process continues, market research helps you identify the key factors that matter to customers - showing you what to focus on. Product research can inform other aspects of marketing. For example, it can help you assess how much customers might be willing to pay for new product features. Research can also be used to test other aspects of product design, such as product packaging or names.

In the retail sector, product research can be invaluable. The findings can help convince retailers to stock your product and also present information on the best ways to display and promote a product to maximise sales. It's also worth talking to retailers at an early stage of development as their experience and knowledge can be invaluable.

Once a product has been launched, product research often focuses on customer satisfaction. Together with research into competing products, product research like this can help you refine the marketing of existing products and inspire ideas for product improvements.

Carrying out product research

Concept testing for new products can be very challenging. Questionnaires and focus groups are good options, but they can be misleading - the way people react to new products in theory can be very different from the reality. Customers may say they like a new idea, but in reality, they may be reluctant to switch products.

There are many other ways to test a product. Try doing a Google keyword search for products and services like yours to ascertain the level of demand. You can also find out what customers think about existing products by reading reviews and comments online. This often highlights common complaints and problems that your new product could solve.

Product research using actual product samples or prototypes is a good idea. For example, the classic 'taste test' can be used to assess how customers compare the performance of different products. Some companies involve customers in early-stage product testing to see how they respond. But remember that real outcomes once a product has been launched may still depend on factors such as how the product is marketed and to whom.

Test marketing - actually selling the product - produces more definitive results, but is an expensive form of product research and can only be used after substantial investment in product development. Test marketing can be a very useful way of trialling products in new markets to assess likely sales or identify what modifications are needed. You can also do a "soft" launch online by building a simple landing page and running a Google AdWords campaign to test demand. Explain to enquirers that you are about to launch and make sure you keep in touch with them.

Both test marketing and full product release can usefully be accompanied by follow-up product research. Purchaser surveys (for example, asking consumers what they liked and disliked about the product) are a straightforward option. Product research that tracks actual purchaser behaviour (for example, whether customers make repeat purchases) provides concrete evidence of customer satisfaction levels.

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