The LAB: Innovating a New Product Launch Campaign (September 2011)

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Innovation methods are not just for inventing new products.  Savvy marketers apply innovation methods to the “big event” – the product launch campaign. Companies spend millions of dollars to get a product off to the right start.  The launch of a new product can make or break it.

Some companies excel at this.  Memorable campaigns include Apple’s launch of the iPhone, Microsoft’s launch of Windows 95, and my all time favorite – Tickle Me Elmo – by Fisher Price.  But a lot can go wrong with product launch, so marketers need ways to stand out from the crowd.  Whether you have a big budget or small one, structured innovation methods take your dollars further and may be the difference between success and failure.

For this month’s LAB, we will demonstrate the use of Systematic Inventive Thinking to this critical aspect of marketing: the product launch.

The method works by applying one of five innovation patterns to components within the product launch process.  The pattern morphs the component into something that unrecognizable or ambiguous.  We take that “virtual product” and work backwards to uncover potential benefits, a process called “Function Follows Form.”

We start by listing the components of the launch:

  1. The Product
  2. Value Proposition
  3. Brand
  4. Advertising
  5. Promotions
  6. Sales Team
  7. Pricing
  8. Retailer
  9. Wholesaler
  10. Customers
  11. Competitors

Here are ideas for a new product launch using all five of the S.I.T. innovation patterns:

1. SUBTRACTION:  In this example, we “subtract” the Product.  That certainly seem like an odd configuration – we have all the other aspects of the launch campaign, but not the product itself.  Why would this be useful in a new product launch?  First, it could generate a level of interest in a new product so the company can better predict sales and determine if it makes sense to build the product.  Second, it could help understand where the breakdowns are in promotion, sales training, distribution, and marketing communications.  Finally, it could signal the market about your intentions, perhaps giving you a first mover advantage (before you even have the product).  Perhaps it could disuade competitors from entering the market.

2. MULTIPLICATION:  To use this pattern, we make a copy of a component but change it in some counterintuitive way.  In this example, let’s multiply Competitors.  We have the original competitors.  We also have additional competitors who have the exact same model as our product – same name, same price, same functions – precisely the same.  Why would this be useful in a product launch campaign?  It is a theorectical exercise of course, but it would help the marketing team gain insights about product positioning.  How would the company position against itself, for example?  What would advertising and other promotional activities have to convey to be successful against an exact duplicate product?

3. DIVISION:  The division pattern takes a process and rearranges the steps to create new configurations.  In this example, imagine taking the step, “pricing the product,” and doing it last instead of early in the launch process.  In this configuration, all the product has been shipped to retailers, the promotional campaign is in full swing, but there is no pricing for the product.  This is an interesting idea because it breaks the “fixedness” about how consumers shop for products.  Perhaps the message to the market is “put in a pre-order without knowing the price, but you specifiy what you are willing to pay.”  The  launch becomes an auction. New product goes to the highest bidders.  This is what happened – accidentally – with Tickle Me Elmo in 1997.  Scarce supply caused a bidding war.

4. TASK UNIFICATION:  This pattern forces you to take a component and assign it a new job in addition to its existing job.  It is a great tool to help you use your resources in new ways.  There are many examples in the world of consumer products.  Retailers, for example, take additional roles of pricing, advertising, and branding in addition to their normal job of merchandising.  Even consumers have additional roles.  IKEA, for example, tasks the consumer with assemblying the products, mainly furniture items.  In the example here, lets assign the sales team the additional job of being the competition.  Such an exercise could help the marketing team understand how comptitors might sell against the new product.

5. ATTRIBUTE DEPENDECY:  This pattern uses attributes of the components instead of components.  We take one internal to the product and one external.  We create a connection – as one changes, the other changes.  Here is how it applies in our LAB example.  We vary the “experience of the sales representative” and the “price” of the product.  Imagine the least experience sales reps have to sell at the higher price points.  This might be advantageous because new sales reps tend to follow the selling script step-by-step whereas more experienced reps take shortcuts.  In the case of a new launch, having the value proposition conveyed exactly as intended might match up better with higher price point products.