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January 10th, 2017

From Product to Platform: Expand Your Market Potential

New product development can be a time consuming and expensive process, especially when it involves new innovation. If at the end of that process you are only getting one product to market, you may not be making the most of the effort. Smart manufacturers develop a product platform—a range of products, with varying feature sets and price points, based on the same core product architecture.

The concept was popularized in the automotive industry, but can be seen today in everything from sporting goods to consumer electronics.

There are several benefits to this approach:

  • Your product development dollar is stretched further because the bulk of the engineering and tooling is only designed and developed once.
  • Instead of trying to please everyone with one product (usually impossible), a product range lets you cater individual products to different user groups.
  • Many retailers prefer to offer a “good-better-best” product range, instead of a “one-off” product.
  • Product platforms benefit from improved efficiency in manufacturing and service due to common parts, assembly, and packaging.
  • A product family, with shared design characteristics, helps reinforce a strong and consistent brand. Consumers will better recognize your products.
  • Oh yeah, and did I mention multiple, diversified revenue streams?

To create a product platform strategy that works for your business, you need to start with your market segmentation strategy. Based on the user types you want to target, describe the feature sets and product behaviors that work for each. With the help of product designers and engineers, you can identify which features make sense to group under the new platform umbrella.

At BOLTGROUP, we worked with our client CoachComm to develop a new beltpack radio platform with product SKUs for each of their current customer types, plus additional SKUs that would allow them to expand into new markets. All of the new products were based on the same core tooling. The manufacturer could swap tooling inserts to convert the parts between 2-channel, 3-channel, and 4-channel models. We even built flexibility into the design that allowed CoachComm to modify the color and branding of the products at their own facility. Armed with this flexible new product platform, CoachComm was able to better serve their current market (intercom for sports teams), while also expanding into studio production and industrial markets. And the product’s features could be customized on the manufacturing side to cater to each user type.

Executing a successful product platform strategy takes significant planning on the back end, but it doesn’t necessarily require a huge up-front investment. For one thing, manufacturers don’t have to develop and release all products at once. They can start with a core offering and build from there. They just need to make sure to accommodate for future expansion in the initial design.

For your next product development effort, ask yourself whether your business and customers would be better served by a product family, based on a common platform. And challenge your engineers and designers to deliver a design geared for flexibility and growth.

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