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July 25th, 2017

3 Common Mistakes in Product Innovation

Product innovation can sometimes feel like a minefield, full of risk and potential failure. What if it doesn’t work? What if no one buys it? What if it’s too expensive? What if a competitor beats us to it? At BOLTGROUP we’ve been developing innovative new products for more than 30 years, so we’ve seen our fair share of false starts, flops, and flat-out failures. But our losses can be your gain: learn from these common missteps and increase the odds that your next innovation effort will be a success.

1. Feature Creep

It can be very tempting for product managers to pack in the features on the next product specification. And why not? More bells and whistles can make your product more appealing to more consumers, and give an advantage over competitors. At least that’s the theory. But there is a point of diminishing returns, and it may come sooner than you think.

More features, components, and options can drive up the time and cost to develop and engineer new products, especially when features get added late in the development process. And they require increased manufactured cost to cover additional parts and processes.

When consumers choose products, they are most likely to base decisions on a product’s benefit, rather than its features. Features may be technical or confusing. Benefits are easy to understand and connect emotionally with consumers. Would you rather buy a coffeemaker with a 1200-watt heating element, or one that can brew your coffee quickly and keep it warm? It’s helpful to think of product innovation the same way: spell out the desired benefit and let your creative teams solve the challenge brilliantly, flexibly, and economically. With the benefits clearly articulated in the design, the marketing proposition to the customer will be simple and powerful.

2. Death by Deadlines

It’s usually some variation on this theme: Our client has a big idea. And a big trade show in six months where they want to roll it out. Or maybe it’s a sales meeting in four months. Or a patent is going to expire in 12. In any case, the deadline rules the day and sets the agenda (often, for failure).

Some of our clients, especially those new to product innovation, are surprised to learn how long it can take. Innovation is, by definition, new invention, and usually requires iterative mockups and prototypes to dial in the design for cost, manufacturability, and user experience. It takes time to make and break mockups, learn the right lessons, and improve the design. Shortcuts can result in missed problems or opportunities. That’s not to say there are not smart ways to go fast. But when it comes to genuinely innovative products that people love, there should be “no wine before it’s time”.

3. Death by DFM

One of the most frustrating things for a product designer is when a crucial design element is removed to meet cost targets. It usually happens during the Design for Manufacturing (DFM) process and if it eliminates a core user benefit, it can prove fatal for the product.  Where do these cost targets come from, and what gives them the power to slice off whole features with the stroke of a pen? Usually, cost targets are benchmarked off of competitor products. But if your product is truly innovative, your cost targets should factor in the value of the additional user benefits.

Sometimes, you have to let the innovation process take you where it leads, and work to get the best price while preserving key user benefits. I’m sure competitors were shocked to learn that consumers would willingly pay $250 for an oscillating fan, but not Dyson. Because the company understood that an appealing, innovative product should not be priced against mediocre competitors. If the innovation is truly unique and desirable, consumers will pay more (and your competitors will be stuck playing catch-up).

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