Launching a New Product - The International Perspective

“What’s New?” That’s the greeting so many of us get when greeting an existing customer or contact, isn’t it? And it’s so helpful for business relationships, for example at an exhibition or conference, to be able to tell people, or better still show them, a new product or application. It helps to keep the discussion fresh, and to give contacts something else to work on.

The speed of technological change in the twenty first century means that it’s more important than ever to maintain an edge against competition to keep achieving product improvement and innovation. The rapid demise of the Blackberry brand, once a leading choice in mobile phones, is a warning about just how quickly fortunes can change.

Introducing new products or innovations always carries a risk, however. Innovations are known to rock the boat sometimes, and can unexpectedly cause complications, particularly for products that are sold internationally.

When planning a product improvement or an innovation, it’s wise to involve all distributors and interested parties before committing to anything. So often, what seems like a clear improvement in one market may not be viewed in the same way elsewhere.

For a company that is already trading internationally, it’s essential that any new product should be demand led. While something might seem like a great idea at head office, there can be surprising divergence in other places. A successful company listens carefully to distributors, agents and subsidiaries and uses the information to feed the product development process.

Beware of the hidden messages when evaluating customer feedback. In many cultures, a need to be polite and not cause loss of face can lead to an exporting company going down a wrong track, sometimes with substantial costs. If the exporter has already bought into the latest idea and is contacting partners with a message that amounts to, “What do you think of this? Isn’t it brilliant?!” Then they may receive the messages people think they want to hear rather than the honest assessment they were looking for.

A business with an international sales base is already in a privileged position to research and develop new products using feedback from its own customers. And yet it’s surprising how many businesses fail to take into account the views of their existing customers.

A major risk in introducing new products is the prospect of a new product that receives partial acceptance. When developing a product that becomes instantly popular with a core of distributors and is intended to replace an older product, the exporter faces a problem if other distributors don’t share the enthusiasm and perhaps prefer to continue with the original product. This leaves the exporter with a dilemma. Should they withdraw the old product and face the prospect of losing sales, or commit to producing both products, and perhaps increasing costs unexpectedly?

Badly researched or badly planned product launches can lead to unexpected consequences, such as increasing operational costs, weakening brand identity and customer confusion. The exporter always needs to ensure that he has the commitment of all partners, and in exceptional circumstances where this isn’t possible, that the reasons for the variance are clearly understood and communicated.

A successful launch involves key partners and customers from the very start of the process, and maintains the involvement throughout. Exporters need to be prepared to take on negative feedback, listen to suggestions that are not their own and ensure through constant dialogue that the eventual product reflects the needs defined by the existing customer base. Never try to rush the process, no matter what the circumstances, and remember that the devil is in the detail.

Article written by Tim Hiscock - Associate of Strong & Herd LLP

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