As an International Product Development Specialist with Dempsey Corporation, I know firsthand all of the tiny, painstaking, and highly particular details that go into bringing a product from ideation, to fruition, to the retailer. From the initial RFP (Request for Proposal) to the actual proposals, to working with manufacturers, buyers and marketing teams, developing a single product can take MONTHS. In a world of infinite ideas, how does anyone know what will sell? A buyer’s worst nightmare is backing and investing in a product that flops – wasting value time, effort and resources that didn’t ultimately turn a profit. And, as a product developer, a buyer’s worst nightmare is also my own. If I don’t propose and develop products that stand half a chance of doing well for a particular client, my value as a developer plummets. So how can I (and other product developers) help mitigate some of that seemingly impossible-to-predict burden? Well, before the internet, we had to rely solely on visiting the brick and mortar stores, attending trade shows, setting up brainstorming meetings, and networking with businesses and people who were doing what we ourselves were trying to do – source, develop and buy products that will ultimately mean success for our enterprise. Unfortunately for us, what is currently in the stores won’t necessarily be on trend next year, and word of mouth can only take you so far. However, with the advent of the internet and the introduction of social media, my job just got a whole lot more interesting. Let me tell you some of the ways I use Social Media in my day to day work as a product developer.
The first thing anyone should know about product development is that it usually takes place about a year in advance. For example, if I am working on a home décor item for one of our clients right now, it will likely be reaching the retailer this time next year. So that means myself and the clients I propose products to need to be ahead of the trends. We need to be cutting edge and we need to figure out, as far as possible, what will sell 12 months out. However, we’re not psychic. We have as much empirical knowledge about what people will want next year as anyone (ie: none). This is where social media analytics can really help. Seeing what people are “liking” (Instagram), “sharing” (Facebook), “pinning” (Pinterest), “vlogging” (Youtube) and “tweeting” (Twitter) is a direct link to what consumers want to see in the marketplace, and what they wish they could change. Knowing which ideas are experiencing an upward growth in interest, visually seeing which colours, patterns, styles, and techniques people are falling in love with (and which ones are headed out) – all of this allows us to better propose and design products that people truly want. Now that we can see so much information with the click of a mouse, getting a glimpse into our target markets needs and desires has never been easier. It’s not perfect, but it helps – a lot.
Understanding What’s Working (and What Isn’t)
Finding out what is selling well within your client’s target market is basically like finding gold. Having proof that people love a certain product helps your client feel strongly about going ahead with a similar product or design. With the rise of Youtube and “Vloggers”, people are turning to the web both before and after a purchase. There are also tons of reviews in real time of just about every product under the sun, oftentimes with loads of helpful commentary. What’s more – it’s not reserved for just positive commentary. Criticism is vital to the successful development of a product, and knowing what people dislike is just as important as knowing what they do like. If enough people are complaining about an aspect of a certain product, a product developer can use that knowledge to rework a design to find solutions and meet those collective needs. Addressing these issues openly and honestly, and providing workable solutions will help alleviate some of the qualms a buyer might have.
Knowing the Competition
When you’re trying to put out the “next big seller”, it helps to know what the competition is doing right, as well as what they are doing wrong. Checking out your competitors social media accounts to see what people are saying can provide valuable insight. “Monitoring conversations around competitors’ products can provide insights into product features that are not part of your offering. Features that regularly see high complaint levels or show repeated frustration can be avoided. Popular features that regularly illicit praise can be researched further and ultimately emulated.” It’s not more complicated than that. Having that information helps you stay ahead of the competition, and ready to provide solutions to any qualms a buyer might raise, and hard data about what people like and dislike. This readiness can often mean the difference between losing and closing a sale.
Lessons for Others
Product Development is an essential element of any successful enterprise. Whether you are selling goods or services, knowing where to look for trends, commentary and criticism is not only beneficial, but crucial to moving and growing within an ever fluctuating, often over-saturated marketplace. Seeing what is working and what isn’t working can give your company a distinct advantage over the competition. And being able to solve problems before they’ve even been presented to you makes your business appear highly capable and in tune with your clients’ needs and desires.
Industry: Retail Distribution
Name of Organization Contact: Martha D'Arcy, Vice President, Beauty & Gifts Division
Authored by: Cassyp
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
- Whitcomb, Kate. 2016, July 30. “The Retail Secret No One Else Tells You”. (https://sosv.com/retail-secret/)
- Jarboe, Greg. 2015, October 20. “64% of Consumers Use Youtube to Review Electronics Before Purchase”. (http://tubularinsights.com/64-percent-consumers-youtube-to-review-electronics-purchase/)
- Smith, Kit. 2016, September 15. “How to Use Social Media for New Product Development Research”. (https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/new-product-development-research)