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April 19th, 2016

Product Expansion: Do You Have Permission?

Deciding to expand the types of products you offer isn’t just a matter of ingenuity, capability and production capacity. It depends on your customers’ permission. This is especially true if if you’re pushing the boundaries of your brand.

This rule applies across all channels—to the trade customers through dealers or salespeople, to retail buyer customers through rep groups, or even direct to end-user consumers.

You’re determined to expand your product offering and grow your presence in a particular channel. You know you can manufacture the products in the new category. So how do you make sure you have your customers’ permission to expand?

Two ways:

  1. Examine their perception of the category you’re expanding into.
  2. Explore the fuzzy edges of your brand with them.

By doing these two things you will have a much better gauge on whether your company and/or brand should move forward, and what challenges you’ll face if you do.

Let’s look at specific goals for each of these.

1. Examine customers’ perception of a category

What you want to accomplish here is to understand the perception of your customers and of your end users, regarding:

  • the products currently available in the category and how well they satisfy customer and end user needs,
  • the companies currently supplying the category and their strengths and weaknesses, and
  • the brands in the category and what those brands provide (beyond the product itself) such as reputation, goodwill, trust, and any emotive connections that are important

The product perceptions give you insights into how you might innovate the category. The company perceptions highlight the important benefits you could provide over your competitors, and the brand perceptions guide how you position your brand to engage customers and end users in more meaningful ways.

On the other hand, and just as important, this knowledge might identify challenges that are too big to overcome in an economically viable way for your business. Good to know—right?

Now, the other way to make sure you have your customers’ permission to expand.

2. Explore the fuzzy edges of your brand

In this segment of your exploration, you’ll test the outer edges of where your brand can extend and still be believable, competitive, and potentially play an important role to customers’ and end users’.

During this phase you will also benchmark your brand—find out where you really stand with your customers and end users. Remember, perception is reality.

Ask customers what other types of products might work within your brand. What other categories could benefit from your brand’s presence.

Ask what changes you’d need to make, or benefits you’d need to provide to be a better choice for your customer and their end user. What brands in other product arenas could your brand be like? For instance, could you be the Ralph Lauren of the cabinet hardware industry?

This line of exploration not only expands your understanding of customer perception of your brand, but also subtly includes them in the innovation of new product opportunities.

Of course, you may again discover that customers aren’t able to grasp and accept the new brand area you’re considering. Valuable information!

The final question is: how do you do this?

By the very nature of your examination, each response you gather will be subjective. But if gathered through carefully structured research and formal analysis, the yield will be objective information you can use for decision-making and risk reduction.

Executives are pressured to shorten product development timelines and reduce cost. Yet consider all the failed attempts, repeated steps due to miscalculations, and missed deadlines that occur by skipping this one critical step. Even by the most sophisticated companies.

In our experience, this is one instance where prior permission is an investment that pays handsomely.

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