Keys to Successful Product Development - #4 – Brainstorming Your Way to Better Products

New product ideas can come from many places; designers’ imaginations, retailer or consumer suggestions, your sales team, etc. But such sources don’t always come through with the best ideas at the exact times they are needed.  New ideas can also come from some not so good places.  Copying the other guy’s products is generally not a formula for success, even if you are able to beat his price.  This doesn’t do much for your brand image and its advantage is likely to be short-lived.  Likewise, running with whatever your foreign suppliers come up with isn’t likely to work.  Foreign factories don’t know the US consumer and they are sharing their creations with anyone who will take them.  Chances are you are being offered products that your competitors or retailers already turned down.  Not great for your brand image in the industry either.

So what are some good, reliable ways to create new products?  One of the best ways to jump start your entire new product development effort is to use formal brainstorming. 

Brainstorming is a structured session with a professional moderator with the specific purpose of identifying new product opportunities.  We recommend the following methods to maximize the productivity of the sessions we conduct:

*Mix internal and external participants.  Don’t limit the effort to your design and product teams.  Think about who in your organization has consumer contact and include them too.  That might mean people from your customer service department.  Perhaps you have retail store support staff such as trainers or merchandizers.  Maybe you have product demonstrators.  Consider including chefs, interior decorators, educators, etc.  (If there are confidentiality concerns, pay these people for their time and have them sign a non-disclosure agreement.)

*Moderator Preparation.  We strongly recommend that sessions begin with an overview of design and product trends in the category and in adjacent categories. Further, we delve into macro-societal trends that impact all markets.   We deliberately stretch the envelopes in these presentations emphasizing both the conventional and the unconventional. 

*Do not limit the number of participants.  There is no reason to limit the number of participants.  Basically, the more people the more ideas!  While we begin brainstorming sessions together with a formal presentation, we then break out into smaller groups (however many are needed) for the real “work”.

*No senior management.  We often hear senior executives want to participate in brainstorming.  Our rule is no one at or above the VP level.  Simply put, senior executives no matter how friendly, well-liked and approachable are intimidating and their presence undermines the sought dynamics of openness and equality of thinking.

*Participant Preparation.  As session moderators we plan the stimuli for each group very carefully based on clients’ objectives.  We often assign homework to the participants in advance.  We seek to make sessions fun and engaging but also to communicate that this is serious business, not a fun day off. 

*Focus on Combinations.  Often the best new concept is not completely out-of-the blue new.  It’s often a great combination of existing products and features done in a new way.  We strive to encourage such outcomes.

*Formal Reporting.  As moderators we record everything that is said in the sessions and we usually deliver verbatim lists of ideas as well as overall summaries of sessions.  The process of pulling the results together often gives rise to additional new ideas or insights which can add value after the sessions are over.  This is especially true when the work of multiple break-out groups is brought together.

We’ve never seen a situation in which a brainstorming session did not give rise to a multitude of exciting new ideas.  Contact us today for more information on how to kick start some creativity into your next wave of products!