I am an advocate of consumer-centric product development.

Consumer-centric product development means that consumer research is an integral part of the development process and every major decision is informed by consumer feedback.

Companies who employ a consumer-centric product development process have a higher new product success rate than companies who employ a product-centric product development process. As Janet Muto, Managing Partner of High Start Group, put it in “Four Rules of (Really) Customer-Centric Product Development”, “success happens when customer feedback informs the new product development process – from initial idea through commercialization.” Yet most housewares companies, especially entrepreneurs and inventors, use a product-centric product development process.

How an Entrepreneur Used Consumer-Centric Product Development to Develop Savino

Savino Wine Preservation CarafeThat’s why meeting Scott Tavenner at the May meeting of the San Francisco CORE (Chief Officers Reaching Excellence) group was such a pleasant surprise.

Scott and his team employed a consumer-centric product development process to develop Savino, a wine preservation carafe.  Savino garnered the most backers of any wine related project in the history of Kickstarter and is getting rave reviews from wine experts and wine drinkers alike.

Scott knows that developing a new product is fraught with risk. He compares it to jumping off a cliff. His 20+ years of experience creating and building companies in health care, IT and Internet advertising taught him that getting consumer feedback throughout the development process minimizes the inherent risk. In other words, consumer feedback helps lower the height of the cliff. As he put it, “I knew I was going to jump off a cliff. I did the research to make the cliff as low as possible.” The process Scott used to “lower the cliff ” is a textbook example of the consumer centric product development process. Here are the steps Scott and his team took.

Step One: Confirm That The Product Concept Meets An Unmet Consumer Need

Scott, a passionate food and wine guy, came up with the idea for Savino the way most entrepreneurs do – he had a problem that was not being solved by products on the market and he thought he could create one that worked better. Unlike most of the other entrepreneurs I know, he didn’t jump right in to developing the product.

First, he confirmed the market potential by talking with other wine enthusiasts. He found out that other wine enthusiasts had the same problem with wine preservation.

For a new product to be successful, it must meet a need or solve a problem for the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t think a product will meet a need or solve a problem for them, it is highly unlikely that they will be interested in purchasing that product. Scott confirmed that Savino met an unsolved problem.

Step Two: Confirm That The Product Works

Once Scott and his team had a design they liked, they wanted to find out if wine enthusiasts thought the product did a good job of preserving wine. They did 20+ blind taste tests of wine that had been stored in the Savino carafe for several days compared to wine from a newly opened bottle. The blind taste tests confirmed that yes, the carafe they had designed actually works – Savino beat the other wine preservers on the market and did the best job of keeping the wine fresh for several days.

Step Three: Confirm Consumer Purchase Interest

Scott knew from talking to wine enthusiasts that the concept of a more effective wine preservation system was appealing to them. But was the product design they had come up with appealing to wine lovers? Scott showed a rendering of the product to 50 groups of wine-loving friends and acquaintances. The feedback was positive; the overwhelming response was “if this works the way you say it does, I would be interested.”

At this point, Scott and his team started showing a 3D model of the product to manufacturers to make sure the product could be manufactured at a reasonable price.

That’s where they ran into their first obstacle. Their original design could not be manufactured and would have to be hand made, which was not economical, scalable and was unlikely to meet the exacting tolerances of the design. They had to throw out the first design and create a new one. The process of letting go is very difficult. It is filled with emotion and research helped them validate their new design and break through the emotional attachments to the old design.

Step Four: Confirm That Design Changes Won’t Negatively Impact Consumer Appeal

They made a rendering of the new carafe and showed it to the same people who had given feedback on the original design to find out if they liked the new design. They did. In fact, many people liked the new design even better.

Every time they hit an obstacle that required them to modify the product design, they went back to consumers to make sure that they still liked the product. The type of research they did depended on whether the design change affected the function or was cosmetic. If product functionality changed, they sent prototypes out. If the change were cosmetic, they would hold a focus group or send a survey via e-mail.

Step Five: Confirm That Product Is User-Friendly

Scott believes that products must be designed so that consumers can figure out how to use them intuitively. To confirm that Savino was intuitive and user-friendly, he conducted a set of focus groups once they had finalized product design. Test participants were given prototypes and a brief explanation of what the product does. Then they had to figure out to use it on their own.

Step Six: Validate Consumer Purchase Interest

Before investing in molds, Scott and his team wanted to confirm that wine enthusiasts would actually purchase Savino. They conducted a final set of focus groups to find out if the product evoked a strong positive emotional response in wine enthusiasts. They knew they had a product that would resonate with wine drinkers when the test participants’ response was “This is fantastic. I want it. Where can I get it?”

Consumers sometimes say that they will buy a product but when it comes to actually spending their hard earned dollars, they don’t actually buy. Knowing that there can be a disconnect between what consumers say and what they do, Scott and team mounted a Kickstarter campaign to validate that people would actually buy the product. Consumer response was so positive that they ended up raising significantly more than their original pledge amount and garnered the most backers of any wine related project in the history of Kickstarter.

Consumer-centric product development doesn’t guarantee that a new product will be a marketplace success but it does greatly reduce the risk of failure. The cost of not including consumers in your product development process is far more than any of the costs associated with continuous consumer feedback.

How have you incorporated consumer feedback into your product development process?

A.J. helps product developers, designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs in the housewares industry improve their odds of new product success.