Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Targeted Consumer Involvement: An Integral Part of Successful New Product Development: The Use of Targeted Focus Groups Early in the Design Process Allows Developers to Refine a New Product with Direct Input from Its Targeted Users

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Targeted Consumer Involvement: An Integral Part of Successful New Product Development: The Use of Targeted Focus Groups Early in the Design Process Allows Developers to Refine a New Product with Direct Input from Its Targeted Users

Article excerpt

In the past, manufacturers of consumer products made product design decisions without fully factoring in the needs, wants, and expectations of the complete range of end consumers. This process leads to products that do not perform in the marketplace, new product failures, and product abandonment. Failure rates for new product introductions vary by industry, ranging from 30 percent to 90 percent (Peter 2002). In many cases, the primary cause of these failures can be traced to a point early in the design process where significant consumer or user information was not collected or analyzed prior to the initial fabrication of the device, leading to incorrect assumptions about user needs that resulted in misguided decisions regarding product design and direction (Lewis et al. 2010).

In some cases companies perform primary market research regarding a product's initial concept in the form of surveys or interviews with consumers (Blaszzyk 2000; Morgan 1997), neglecting critical steps at which consumers can add significant value to the product development process. Once this primary market research is accomplished and a prototype device fabricated, companies often do not go back to initial survey participants for input to critique or refine the device. Often, product development specialists feel that consumers have limited insight into the idea generation process. However, as shown by Poetz and Schreier (2012), "ideas created by professionals score significantly lower in terms of novelty.., are attributed significantly lower customer benefit, [and] score significantly lower than user ideas on the overall quality index" (251). Lilien et al. (2002) also found that new product concepts developed jointly by 3M personnel and selected lead users possessed a greater degree of innovativeness and a greater sales potential than product concepts developed by 3M using their traditional product development process.

Involving consumers in the early stages of product development can help companies identify the key design and functional features of a product from the consumer's perspective. However, as Poetz and Schreier (2012) demonstrate, "attracting the right people" is crucial in developing the type of detailed and insightful input needed by product designers (254). Having access to consumers and being able to generate quality information is essential to developing a viable partnership. It is also important that both parties to the partnership--consumers and product designers--understand the parameters of the collaboration. Consumers provide input on functions and features that will ensure a product's success in the marketplace, while product designers provide expertise in design and manufacturing.

Participatory development (PD) provides a framework for managing this crucial collaboration. PD is a logical extension of the well-established principles of participatory action research (PAR), a methodology that enables researchers to include community members and community input in research that will affect the community (Baum, MacDougall, and Smith 2006). PD takes the inclusive principles of PAR and applies them to the entire product development process, from primary market research to refinement of the alpha and beta prototypes. With PD, consumers in targeted focus groups outline the design and functional features for a new product or for the next generation of an existing product, leaving the actual design to the company. In effect, they are performing a type of "consumer engineering," a term coined in the early 1930s by Earnest Calkins, cofounder of the first modern advertising agency (Sudjic 2009, 16). Using PD, consumers can be viewed as a resource rather than a threat to the corporate design team, which retains the latitude to design a product that fits the manufacturing capabilities of the company. Consumers provide the "what" of functional requirements, while product designers and engineers provide the "how" of implementing those requirements. …

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