The Three Big Reasons New Products Fail (and How to Avoid Them)

As your organization takes its place in the digital transformation that’s underway everywhere, you’ll inevitably need to create or update a large number of different products. But just because you think your shiny new app, website, service, or other digital offering is great doesn’t automatically mean the customer will.  Let’s focus on a few of the big reasons new products fail.

Reason #1: The Wrong Value Proposition. For a product to be successful, it has to meet customers’ needs and do so in a way that is “worth” more than the cost the customer is asked to bear. Furthermore, it must offer value that is superior to competitive options at that price point. This “value proposition” is the core of any product idea—a specific solution to a customer problem delivered at a defined price point and revenue model.

The quality of a Skype call may not be the same as expensive teleconferencing equipment, but it’s free. So, for many customers, it’s a more compelling value proposition. Of course, other customers prefer to pay more and have more reliable connections. That’s fine as well; both are valid propositions and address different markets.

Reason #2: Failure to Execute. It’s not enough to have an idea with the right value proposition, because ideas are not products. You still have to bring them to life. Many products born of great ideas fail in their execution. Take the beloved 2017 Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. Even though it launched with rave reviews, Samsung’s valuation dropped by over $26 billion when the phones’ batteries started catching on fire. The point? Some products just don’t work quite the way they are supposed to.

My team was brought in to help ‘save’ a project management software tool that a client had launched. They built what they thought was a ‘killer’ app, but the market was rejecting it. We conducted some market research and found that while the tool had awesome features that aligned with what customers wanted, it had one problem: It was slow. It required so much computational power that each change to your project plan took 5-10 seconds to ‘recalculate.’ That was all it took for users to reject it. This is a big challenge of product development: A lot can be right, but if one critical thing is off, it can tank the whole thing.

We improved the project management software in part through performance optimization but mostly by removing features that weren’t ‘worth’ their impact on speed. After that the product was more successful.

Reason #3: Lack of Awareness. You know the old adage (attributed, perhaps falsely, to Ralph Waldo Emerson) about building a better mousetrap and having people beat a path to your door? It’s not true. There have been 4,000 patents for new ideas for mousetraps, and yet the world continues to use the classic (grisly and dangerous) “snapping” model. Despite the fact that this customer journey has many points of pain—from the need for insect-attracting peanut butter to the disturbing front-row view of a dying mouse—none of those new designs have overshadowed the original model. Even if an idea is well executed, it can still fail if nobody knows about it.

Awareness does not just mean customers knowing your product exists. It actually consists of three critical components:

  • The product’s existence and core value proposition.
  • The product’s claim of differentiation. Why choose this one over all the other options?
  • How to take action—where to order the product and how to access it.

In ‘old-school’ product development thinking, you’d consider these marketing issues. But if you embrace a Design Thinking approach, you realize you can’t split them out that way. Every stage of the customer experience must be considered together.

By no means are these three obstacles insurmountable. When you address them head-on, you’re all the more likely to launch a highly successful product.



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