A Blitz-Weinhard marketing guy sat at the bar at Jake's Famous Crawfish night after night asking customers what they would like to drink that wasn't on the menu.
That patient, first-person inquiry led to the development and introduction of Weinhard's Blue Boar Red, a hoppy amber beer intended for people who like good beer.
Those one-on-one interviews with beer drinkers produced a recipe for the color, complexion and finish of a beer product that didn't exist. The marketing guy handed the customer specs to the brewmaster, who turned it into a successful commercial product.
This is a great example of the intersection of research, branding and product design – in that order.
Many companies and entrepreneurs come up with the product, then try to figure out what makes it distinctive and who would be interested in buying it. That may account for why a lot of new products and enterprises fail. You develop what you want to sell, not necessarily what anyone wants to buy.
Innovative product designs can be box office hits. But the odds improve for success if you do research first, branding second and product design third.
In our welter world of proliferating communication channels and diminishing attention spans, your intended audience may never notice your unbelievably great product. Greatness isn't a typical, quantifiable product feature. People are interested in products that solve their problems, meet their needs or satisfy an unmet wish.
Starting with research is the only rational course. Marketing plans depend on solid research. So does branding. And, by extension, so do sales.
Research doesn't have to involve a telephone survey. For new product design, such research is close to useless. If polled, no one would have urged a manufacturer to create a computer. Once Steve Jobs created a unique computer with an intuitive interface and vast graphic capabilities, he sold it by showing people how it could be used.
Some inventors view it as dishonest or dishonorable to create something simply because it addresses an existing problem. That is wrongheaded. This is exactly why you should create a product or service.
Most often, you aren't the only one working on a solution. You have competitors. You need to design a product or service with a distinctive advantage, something that makes your product stick out. We call that branding.
Effective branding depends on research to know what qualities people want in a product. Someone may design a product that comes in different colors. But you would be smart to design the same product with a simpler operation in a single color if simple is what potential buyers want. You can add colors later in the "new and improved version."
If you know what potential buyers want or need and design a product with a distinctive feature or quality that meets consumer demand, marketing is like following a map instead of solving a riddle. Your research will have told you what people want – and where they will go for information or to buy the products that met their needs. Your marketing channels will have been identified.
Research also can reveal who your potential customers look to for credible advice. A savvy marketing campaign will push those information sources to the forefront – in testimonials and as spokespersons.
It is a wonderful feeling to take a warm shower and have an epiphany of the next great thing. Dry off, comb your hair and write on your foggy mirror – research first, branding second, product design third. That will save you a lot of consternation and preserve your energy for the challenges that can lead to successful sales.