So, you want to make a new product for your business.
But where do you start? Products don’t fall out of thin air, and it takes more than a few hours scrolling Amazon’s best-sellers to come up with an idea. Instead, new product development requires investing energy in a roadmap to build a product that can make a difference for your business.
You need a process to get you from wanting a new product to selling one.
If you need a product to build a business around or add to your current product catalog, this step-by-step product development process will save you time, money, and headaches.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Do You Need a New Product?
If you’re reading this article, it’s because you want to develop a new product. But do you actually need one?
Here are some questions to ask yourself before kicking off the product development process:
- Is there a problem my product idea will solve?
- Have my current customers asked for a new product?
- How will this product help my existing customers?
- Will this product reach a new set of customers or audiences?
- Do I have the time and money to invest in this product?
Ultimately, you need to understand if you have the appetite for risk. Whether you’re developing your first product or your fiftieth, making a new product is an investment, not a quick-revenue win. So, ensure you are passionate about the problem the product solves. Otherwise, the new product development process won’t be enough to get you through the challenges that will come.
Don’t make a new product just to have something on your goal sheet for next year. Make sure your new product matters.
Step 2: Build Your Customer Avatar
In order to have a product, you need customers that are willing to buy it. Otherwise, you’ll have a stockroom full of products and a serious marketing problem.
No matter how cool your friends think your product idea is, new product development requires you to start with thorough customer research. Before you even think about the look and feel of a physical product, create a customer avatar for your “potential” idea. A customer avatar is an imaginary representation of your ideal customer.
If you’re a brand new business, you’ll have to rely on industry data from your competitors to formulate an avatar. For established businesses, a customer avatar could be based on existing customers or an ideal customer you’re trying to reach.
To start building your customer avatar, ask yourself these questions:
- Who are you serving?
- What’s their gender and age?
- What’s their profession and salary?
- Where do they hang out, and how do they spend their disposable income?
- Do they usually carry out your activity in a group or alone?
- Which items do they frequently purchase together?
Once you answer these questions, start formulating an avatar. The avatar will look unique to your business. For example, if you’re a lifestyle brand hoping to sell a premium yoga mat, your customer avatar will look very different from a business selling tech gadgets.
Here’s what your customer avatar process might look like for your lifestyle brand:
- Who are you serving? Health-conscious young urban professionals.
- What’s their gender and age? Women ages 22 – 32 years old.
- What’s their profession and salary? Corporate marketing and finance. $50K – $80K per year.
- Where do they hang out, and how do they spend their disposable income? Restaurants, theaters, bars, and city parks. They spend their disposable income on experiences, exercise, and travel.
- Do they usually carry out your activity in a group or alone? They are typically out with friends or co-workers.
- Which items do they usually buy with yours? Athleisure, water bottles, and health supplements.
So, let’s build a customer avatar for your lifestyle brand from these answers.
Profession: Corporate Marketing Manager
Hazel is a single young professional working in the city. When she’s not at work, Hazel likes to explore new restaurants with her friends and venture outside of the city for long weekend getaways. Because of the strenuous demands of her job, Hazel spends the majority of her free time on health. She’s a member of a neighborhood gym and participates in health classes at a local park put on by the city. Her day job requires a professional dress code, so Hazel likes to keep things casual with athleisure wear on the weekends so she can go for bike rides, long walks, or pop in for brunch with friends.
Now, you can use that information to determine the price, quality level, and design of the yoga mat. Is the product a must-have or a nice-to-have for Hazel? How do you turn it into a must-have? Set the scene of what experience Hazel would want in terms of website, packaging, store layout, and social media promotions.
As your new product development roadmap continues, you can further refine your customer avatar to speak their language, market to them correctly, and fulfill their needs.
Step 3: Product Research
Now that you have an ideal customer to focus on, it’s time to do more research. New product development is all about understanding your customers’ needs or solving a problem for a potential customer. Your research starts with studying the competition.
Study the Competition
There’s a debate on whether to research your competition before or after knowing what product you want to sell. While there’s not a 100% correct answer, competition research should help mold your product development, NOT define it.
We suggest you develop your product idea first and then research the competition. That way, you can avoid being so fixated on the competition that you end up making a copycat.
Here are the 6 steps for studying the competition:
- Purchase your competitor’s product.
- Read reviews.
- Read sales copy.
- Talk to their sales representatives.
- Make a list of everything you like and dislike about their products.
- Know why your product idea is better.
Create a Vision Board
Find a spare wall or whiteboard and create a vision board for your product. Create a folder of all the inspirational images from products you’ve come across, then print them out (old-fashioned, we know) and display them visually. While a digital vision board is handy, there is a powerful effect of interacting with printed imagery that can spur creativity.
A vision board should include:
- The ‘in’ colors for this year and next year.
- The trends for this year (brands, people, products).
- Top packaging options.
- Recycled materials.
- Competitors’ products.
- Design innovations across other sectors.
- Top influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs) for your product.
Search Volume and Keyword Research
Don’t let keyword volume determine your product but use it to understand what people are searching for and notice trends. Use keyword tools like:
- Google Trends
- Search terms on Amazon’s best-sellers in your category
Keyword research can spark an idea for an additional product feature, marketing language, or a new variant.
Step 4: Finalizing Your Product Idea
Now that you understand who you’re selling to and how you can differentiate from the competition, what will your new product look like? How does it function? How will the customer feel holding it?
Before calling a manufacturer, you need to remind yourself why you’re making this product.
- Does Your Product Solve a Problem?: We can’t iterate this enough.
- Start with Passion: Create a product you want to use yourself. It’s your business, so make sure you’re passionate about the new product. Nobody’s going to sell it for you.
- Use Your Leg Up: What do you see that others don’t? What is your knowledge advantage over everyone else you know? What makes you (and your business) unique?
- Deliver an Experience: Can you express a specific message with your product packaging and bundling?
- Core Values: If your new product doesn’t align with your core values, then your audience will have difficulty trusting it.
Is This Your Flagship Product?
Every brand wants a flagship product like Levi’s 501, Nike’s Air Force One, Nespresso’s coffee machine, or Apple’s iPhone. Authenticity and individuality were the drivers for these flagship products. None of these brands created an icon by following a trend.
You can create an icon by starting a trend. If you chase what will make you money, you’ll pretend to be something you’re not. And trust us. Consumers are experts in spotting inauthenticity. Brands don’t decide what becomes an icon—consumers do.
Must Go Faster
When you have an idea, you must act fast. Chances are there are other people in the world with a similar idea, and the ones who get rewarded are the ones who take action.
That doesn’t mean you have to launch a business around this idea, but you have to take it to the next stage to see if it’s validated. So, adopt speed as a creative trait in your process, and don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.
But here’s a secret–you don’t have to launch every product idea. That’s why speed is your friend. Keep moving forward until the concept is no longer validated, and then end it.
Allot time in your calendar each week for product development. If you don’t have time, then delegate a team member. For competitive spaces, develop your new product until it’s 80% ready, then launch. But if you’re going into a new space (we call this the blue ocean strategy), then obsess over the final 20%.
Pro tip: If you have a seasonal product or business (swimwear, Halloween-themed brand), work backward on the calendar from your ideal launch so you have optimal time to develop a new product.
Step 5: Product Specification Sheet (Don’t Skip)
This is the most crucial part of the new product development process.
Completing a specification sheet for your product will be necessary when reaching out to suppliers, educating your team, testing your product, and pitching to investors. A product spec sheet includes details like:
- Your business name and info
- A description of the product and what it does
- Your customer avatar
- What is the product made of (or ideally made of)
- The function of the product and how to use it
- Maintenance of the product
- How to dispose of the product
- Concept imagery
- Any additional information that helps explains the product
Step 6: Packaging, Name, and Logos
The creation phase of the product development process is when you have to put your money where your mouth is. This starts with product packaging, names, and logos.
- Packaging: Packaging is your first in-person touchpoint with your customer. Think about it as an extension of your product. Read our product packaging guide for ideas and ways to maximize your new product’s impact with the materials it comes in.
- Product Name: Naming a product is typically the joy or bane of every entrepreneur. Read our guide on naming to generate innovative ideas.
- Colors and Logos: If you already have an existing brand, your new product should reflect the same look and feel. If not, read our ultimate color picker cheat sheet.
Pro Tip: Ask your audience or current customers what packaging, colors, and names they prefer for your new product.
Step 7: Protect Your Product Idea
Business can be brutal. And just because you have a brilliant new product idea doesn’t mean it’s free from being stolen or copied.
Yep, it’s time to lawyer up. Well, at least trademark up.
Read our guide on Business Trademarks 101: Registering Names, Logos, and Phrases to learn what you need to know to secure your brand. Then, as always, we suggest talking to a legal professional to ensure you’ve confirmed your proprietary rights or aren’t infringing on someone else’s. Industries where you need additional protection and approvals are health, beauty, and pharmaceuticals.
To keep your product idea protected, make sure you follow these tips:
- Only show your idea to people you trust or work with.
- Imitating and innovating is the nature of the game, don’t get annoyed.
- If someone copies you, it’s validation that you’re good at what you do.
- Have a good relationship with your supplier.
Ultimate defensibility is by building an influential brand. They can copy your product but not your brand.
Step 8: Chose a Supplier
The last step in the product development process is probably the most crucial business relationship you’ll have besides a co-founder–your supplier.
Finding a manufacturer to bring your product vision to life should be taken seriously. Picking one based on a 10-minute Alibaba search could cost you thousands of dollars and set your product launch back months. This is the decision that will set your product apart from the competition we discussed in step three. And if correctly selected, your supplier can become a trusted partner to help scale your business.
Here are some tips when selecting the supplier for your new product:
- Have your spec sheet, tech pack, and quote sheet ready.
- Align with a supplier that fits your purpose.
- Is your order just for MOQ (minimum order quantity) or something significant?
- Research how many years a manufacturer has been supplying.
- Find who else they supply to.
- Ask your supplier what they’ve been working on.
- Use suppliers to learn more about the product details.
- Visit the manufacturer if you’re able.
Get Your New Product Made
Now, you have a product development process but are you ready to create your new product? Get more examples and expertise in our new product development course. Taught by sourcing specialist Kian Golzari, you’ll learn the strategies he’s used to source more than 2,500 products and work with 100 of the top sellers on Amazon.
In the course, you’ll learn about branding vs. selling, a method to validate your product idea, and contracting with a manufacturer. Sign up here to get his strategies.