Sales & Marketing

8 painless ways to generate new product ideas

6 min read

29 May 2014

Coming up with a new product idea can breathe life into even the most established brand. Here are eight effortless ways to generate new product ideas.

The word “new” is one of the most powerful in the marketing vocabulary and every company needs a significant number of its product line graced with this adjective in order to stay relevant and capitalise on changing consumer behaviour. What can be difficult however, is knowing how to generate the ideas that will go on to spawn successful new products.

There’s a romantic notion that all great ideas come from a light bulb moment, delivered when it’s least expected. While a fair share of entrepreneurs will attest to this, it’s also possible to approach product development in a more systematic way.

Busy people who don’t have the time to hang around and wait for inspiration to strike need to develop a strategy to help tease out new ideas. 

Here are eight tips for getting the ball rolling:

1. Look to the competition 

Browse exhibitions, conduct your own online research, and visit distributors’ premises to see what other businesses are up to. Despite what people say, there can be money to be made out of being second into the market. Apple is a case in point, it’s now a market leader in the smartphone and tablet arenas despite not being the first brand to introduce them.

2. Look at other market sectors

Indirect competition – companies making products that perform a similar function to yours but which are made in a different way – can be a great source of ideas. I once worked with a manufacturer of cardboard packaging that wanted to extend its product range. By looking to companies in the plastic packaging market they happened upon growing demand in key markets for more sustainable packaging, which took their product development in an entirely new direction.

3. Look at patent applications

Where patents are registered and what they are for can be highly informative and spark parallel ideas. In addition, there can be mileage in looking at patent applications which have remained dormant but which could present good licensing opportunities today.

4. Look inside your own company

Ask the sales team. They are an important resource on the front line and will have significant insight into how customers are feeling about your product. Many firms commission masses of market research to find some kind of remarkable idea from the outside, when they should begin by asking their own workforce for feedback on what improvements or innovations could be made. It is then the place of market research to stress test and develop these ideas.

5. Look to customers

Your customers may already be modifying or adapting your products to make them more user-friendly without you realising. Visit your customers’ factories and offices and see how your products (and your competitors’ products) are being used. Ask your customers what they would wish for if they had a magic wand; they’ll appreciate your consultancy and you may come away with new ideas.

6. Look at the pressures influencing a market

The traditional forces that shape a market are political, economic, social and technological. Which of these are having most effect on your market and how can you adapt what you do to capitalise on these changes? A company that we worked with were selling mail-order products and could see that their customer base was ageing rapidly. Instead of trying to diversify and find younger customers, it extended its products for older people and tapped into a very wealthy and profitable stream.

7. Look to the academics

Universities and academics are continually thinking about new products and spend huge amounts of time on research and development. However, sometimes their lack of commercial knowledge means that they ignore, or simply cannot see, opportunities that they come across during their studies. Businesses should work closely with universities to take advantage of their vast resources and passion to innovate. It is a cost-effective way to access data that could potentially result in a lucrative new idea.

8. Look to foreign sources

It used to be said that products launched in America would find their way into other countries five years later. Nowadays America isn’t the only cradle of new product development; Asia could be a fertile source of new ideas as the rise of consumerism takes hold there. Travel is a brilliant way to see how different cultures can affect idea generation and can also be a way to spot new market opportunities; other countries could be open to existing product that the UK is flooded with and require little to no product adaptation. 

Paul Hague is director at market research agency B2B International.