27 June 2013

How to use The Internet and social media to assist in product commercialising

In product commercialisation, understanding customers and generating demand get too little attention. It is also vital that commercialisation process is agile, so that changing customer needs can be responded.

Customer development, originating from startup circles, is running in parallel with product development with close interconnections between the two processes, see picture below. Also small and medium sized enterprises (SME) can greatly benefit from the model by picking up best practises to develop products better matching to customer needs and to bring them more successfully to markets.

The Internet and social media have created new options to effectively develop new products and customers.  It is cost-effective to use these options, so also SME can utilise them. If a company invests significantly in developing a new product, it should also be ready to allocate more money and other resources to commercialisation activities. Traditional approach, where a product is sequentially defined, developed, tested and then brought to market, is not agile and fast enough to match requirements of current market uncertainty and competition.

This post discusses, how to utilise the Internet and social media in product commercialisation.  Of course, traditional tools, such as interviews and panel surveys, should be used in parallel, when feasible. We focus in consumer products and services, in B2B these methods are also partially usable. Furthermore, the discussion is primarily applicable to companies that develop their own products or services and sell them with their own brand. Sales channel strategies and their execution are not detailed here.

Stumbling blocks in commercialisation

Definition of business model and excellent execution of the model are the cornerstones to make a product commercial success. Typically, businesses have challenges e.g. with:
  • deeper understanding of customer needs
  • definition and prioritisation of target customer segments 
  • definition of product features and characteristics 
  • development and testing of communications messages
  • demand creation
As earlier discussed, parallel product and customer development is the way to find answers to the challenges. Work is done iteratively, aiming at continuously improving product and making it more competitive, as well as refining commercialisation plan and execution.

Internet and social media tools

The Internet and social media have been strong drivers and enablers to iterative product and customer development model. More and more tools and methods are becoming available. Generating attention through remarkable content, downloadable applications, feedback and testing options are among the most interesting ones.

Just to put brochures and other marketing material to web pages has long been an old-fashioned way to use the web: To be successful, you need to follow the way, how potential customers find and purchase their solutions. Inbound marketing is a great tool for this, using social media tools to build two-way communications with customers.

Inbound marketing earns consumers´ attention through publishing on company Internet pages interesting and relevant information related to their problems and needs. This creates a tight bond to consumers that increases probability of product purchases and helps to build long-lasting customer relationships. In addition, potential customers will provide valuable information that helps e.g. to deepen understanding on customer needs, to select target customer segments and to prioritise product features.

Applications that can be downloaded from application stores, provide various options to build a direct connection to potential customers and to increase demand for a planned product. 

It is fast and cost-effective to get customer feedback from potential customers, thus making it easier to match product and customer development to changing circumstances and to create value to customers. For example, visit statistics of company web pages are a good basis to analyse, how users respond to its content and messages.  To get insights on problematic areas, consumers can be also asked to answer directly , through consumer surveys.

Continuous development is a must to use the Internet and social media effectively - testing,  what kind of content and transactions yield best results, analysing the results and then implementing the improvements. This makes iterative virtuous cycle very fast and gives solid factual basis for decision-making.  Typical areas to test and develop can be found e.g. in product characteristics and consumer argumentation. 

A product commercialisation case

An SME company starts to develop a durable consumer product. This case discusses, how the company can successfully use the Internet and social media to develop the product and customer in parallel and to run the process in an agile manner.

At first, the company decides to position itself as a renown player and expert in the area of the new product, by creating a blog that introduces various viewpoints on customer needs, alternative solutions to satisfy the needs, related research etc. In addition, on the company website there are other materials discussing the topic, e.g. videos that can be shared and commented and links to other relevant articles and web sites. The company also starts to actively participate in discussions handling the topic, both on the own website as well as in other social media. Interest groups are also created to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. A downloadable application is developed, to let consumers get relevant, topic -related information in a compelling way.

With above mentioned activities, the company aims to reach consumers, traditional and digital media and social media influencers, that are active in the topic area. The target is to raise their awareness of the company and its offerings and to start dialogue with them.

When discussing with consumers about pain points of the interest area, the company gets deep insights on customer needs, which makes it easier to prioritise product features. As regards to services supporting the product, the company has two difficult questions: What services do customers perceive most valuable, and how do other customers affect on user experience of the product? In the former case, customer feedback on user stories that describe, how the product will be used and how it will fulfil customer need, helps prioritise and select essential support services. In case of the latter, customers seem to value advice given by other customers, thus resulting to implementation of best usage practises pages on the website. In-built survey function in the downloadable application is also used as one of the key instruments to capture users´  voice.

In order to find most promising customer segments for the product, the company carefully analyses visitor statistics of its web pages and social media presence, and makes on company pages focused enquiries to visitors. On the basis of this, most interesting demographic behavioural profiles are defined. By analysing demand potential per country, the company can decide, where to first start sales activities.

The company intends to market its products both online and offline. Web presence learning and tools are heavily used for both of them.

Marketing messages are A/B -tested, resulting to best argumentations and ways to communicate benefits, and in addition, right pictures and videos to resonate to potential customers.

Wide and deep web presence that the company has built early enough, deepens understanding, how customers cope with their problem, what alternatives there are to solve the problem and what are the ways, how solutions to the problem are found. This way the company recognises right channels to reach potential customers, right keywords and web pages for search advertizing, and creates relationships to influencers, who will effectively spread the word about the great new product.

Results and learning of online marketing are also utilised in offline planning. Selected advertising agency is briefed with findings from web world, e.g. on customer needs, target segments and effectiveness of communications messages.

The company and its new product are getting plenty of interest, and this in turn produces contacts and cooperation requests from distributors and retailers. A lucrative value proposal and offering is also available for channel partners. It is based on customer segmentation data, information on customer-valued complementing products and services, and evidence on effectiveness of communications messages. In addition, the company can show through documented preorder willingness, how strong product demand is.

Assisted by the Internet and social media, the company is able to have faster and more agile commercialisation process. This in turn, facilitated by rigorous testing, makes continuous learning and changes to right direction possible. 


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