The single biggest challenge for new brands is to gain an active following. By following, I am not merely referring to a social media following, but an active community of people who would vouch for the brand and its products. But, how do you build up a following as you develop your product? Do you need to create the perfect product, first? Or could you benefit from a more iterative product development strategy? 

The product continues to be king

When I speak with brands and retailer alike about their biggest challenges, they come up with a long list of reasons why things are not going according to plan. Sometimes it is due to general market trends, high (marketing) barriers to entry or due to the fact that customers have changed their buying behavior. 

What strikes me, is that the product (its features, pricing, presentation and point of sale) are hardly ever questioned. The perceived issues generally lay with the customer, who has either not understood or paid enough attention to the product. 

Try to understand your product life cycle

How many times would you buy your own product? When would you buy your own product? 

These are essential questions any product developer and marketeer should ask themselves. I believe that most product developers, do not take the longevity of their own product into consideration. Especially not in regards to the companies financial objectives. 

Depending on the unit economics of the products that you sell, it is essential to keep the contribution margin per sale in mind when developing your products. An iterative process of product releases, could have a positive effect on your company growth. 

How does your product development strategy support your business goals?

Think of product driven companies such as GoPro, who release a new and better version of their product every single year. Or Apple, who bring out a new phone in a two year release cycle (first year upgrade, second year re-invent). 

These companies blossom, because they keep their community active and excited about new product releases. If your product hits a home run, because it ticks all the boxes, it might not be the best product for your company in the long run. Think about, how product improvements could benefit your long term company goals and perspective. 

Product development as a strategy

What puzzles me is the lack of self awareness that brands portrait with regards to their own products. When a product sells poorly, the customer does not appreciate the value. 

Sales have started to go down? It is not the end of the product life cycle, nor was there an issue with the latest collection, the consumer has chosen to go spend their money somewhere else. 

It can actually be a tremendous asset to use your product development as a strategy. Customer feedback is essential if you want to build up a community. I believe, that an active customer conversation (across all product cycle) is essential to the longevity of your company and its success. 

There is nothing more powerful, than an active product community. 

Creative products show the way

Products that have developed over a long time period, can withstand new technological developments. Think about camera companies, such as Nikon and Olympus. 

These companies have been around for decades, and even though smartphones and digital cameras have taken over most of our daily photography needs, they are still going strong. The main reason being their active community management, step by step product development and long term visions. 

Don’t just show people how to use your products, let them use your products and tell you how they use it. 

One thing these brands have done really well: Engage with their customers. They have shown them how to work with the product, what they can do with it and listened to the open, constructive feedback. 

These brands have chosen to create an eco system around their products, nourished the community around their products from day one. They set up events in which customers can show what they can do with the products, facilitate the conversation and create space for open feedback. 

Implications for your product development

Of course, a creative company such as Nikon or Olympus have the perfect product for that. However, who is to say that these techniques could not benefit your product development as well? 

However, an active community can withstand the burdens of time. A product following is an essential and strong asset for any company to strive for. Thus, I believe it is important to focus on the community aspects of your product development. 

I would not create the perfect product from the get go, but use shorter product development cycles to gain active insights into your customers. Ask them for their opinions and work together on creating both a fantastic product and a strong brand community. 

At the end of the day, you need to make sure that people speak about your product, your brand and the experience(s) they have had. 

If your product is not selling well, don’t just look at the product, but have a close look at how you manage and engage with your product community. An iterative product development strategy, that is in line with your business goals is essential to your company’s long term success.