I’ve been working on a marketing consulting project for the past few weeks. It is wrong to disclose the details of the company or the specific circumstances here, but the issue I encountered can be extrapolated to other circumstances, perhaps yours.
Please bear with the disguised identities, but think of your circumstances in developing a brand new product. You’ve seen competitors with offerings in the same market space, but you’ve designed your product to more reliably match the characteristics and interests of your current clients.
You’ve spent several thousand dollars in developing the idea, but outside of limited communications with your clients, you’ve focused on what you perceived would be an extended opportunity to grow the product into new markets. However, after several efforts, you’ve come up with not a single order. (Some people took the information for a free trial, but you haven’t received any take-up evaluation.)
You have a mess . . or do you? The next question; what about your current clients? You finally started approaching them and engaged with a consultant to obtain some feedback. (Yes, autobiographically, I am indeed the consultant.)
The consultant calls several clients hand-picked by the business to be most likely to be responsive.
The result: An amazing and almost total lack of interest in the new product.
It is my task as the consultant to figure out the issue, and of course silence means I am working with limited data. But one observation shines through the fog — possibly the issue could be that the product, designed as a competitive response, was developed without understanding the current clients’ actual needs, interests and values. In other words, the business owner developed a new product because of what he thought (I think correctly) to be a competitive threat, but failed to understand the clients he is currently serving are simply not ready for the change.
I’m continuing the evaluation but have a suspicion that the new product will need to sit on the shelf, unused. It may provide some competitive protection later on, if current clients are forced kicking and fighting into the new technology/trends, but it could quite easily become an orphaned initiative.
Can we learn lessons from this experience? Yes, but you’ll need to ask yourself (or have a consultant ask) some tough questions.
If you see competitors doing things, and apparently succeeding, be aware that your current clients count the most in evaluating the competition’s impact.
Are clients leaving you for the competition? Are you retaining your current clients but noticing a dry-up of new business? Can you figure out why clients are staying, leaving, or failing to arrive?
Finally, generally, when you are marketing new products or services, you should always look to your current clients first. Bring them into the picture, consult, communicate, and test with them. You may find they lead you naturally to the marketing extension opportunities, or they may kiss the idea goodbye. Obviously, if your current clients are leaving (you are failing to attract new clients), you will need to make changes — at least by offering variations or improvements to your product/service to negate the competition’s impact.
But it can happen, as I think it has in this story, that there are two universes, clients buying into the future, and other clients which don’t wish any change. If your current market participants are the old-timers who don’t want to change, and you develop a “new” product designed to help them adapt to the new world order (and protect yourself ultimately from destruction by the better competitive options), you may need to accept you may have tried to develop a solid defensive response, but you won’t see much, if any, actual market success. You can’t force people to change.