What makes a successful product? The answer doesn’t come quickly.
I’ve been part of commercialization for over 70 products with more than 20 years of inventing experience and have had my share of successes and failures. I’ve also watched countless other products appear, then either fly high or crash and burn. As I proceeded through the years, I’ve taken the time to step back and analyze what worked and what didn't to try and improve my chances of success.
Eventually, I was able to distill a deceptively simple formula, or lens, I call the “Perfect Product Pyramid.” It consists of three parts: innovation, function and design. These are the soul, mind and body of the product. I say the formula is "simple" because it only has three parts. I say "deceptively" because so many products get it wrong. This lens can be used on consumer products, as well as intangible service products.
To start, let me explain what I mean by "perfect." With every idea, there are many possible ways it could be turned into a product. Different price points can be targeted, features added or subtracted, markets targeted and designs created. The perfect version of the product is the one that sells the most units -- a reflection as the consumer perceives it as having the highest value density among all other options. To draw an important distinction, the “ultimate” version of a product is the one with the most features and the highest price point. It is often the version an inventor initially wants to create, but is usually not the most successful version. The “perfect” version is often the lowest cost version with the least amount of features, or the step up with just a little extra, but still a lower price point.
The foundation of the Pyramid is innovation. This is the reason any product deserves to exist. Sometimes, the innovation is the new lowest cost alternative, the creation of a whole new product category, a new way of doing something more convenient or requires fewer steps or a new decorative option. Products with no innovation, the so-called "me too" products, rarely do much business. The innovation should be more than just incrementally better than competitors. Ideally it will be an order of magnitude better. And those benefits should be instantly recognizable to the target customer.
Sometimes this is achieved with a combination of smaller innovations that add up to a game-changing product. It should be very easy to understand and ideally, require no explanation. The innovation should also address a need people care about. Look around at new products you see, and ask yourself; “What is the innovation here?” Now, look at your own ideas and ask the same question. When answering, keep in mind, “different” is not the same as “innovative” if the benefit is negligible.
The next layer of the Pyramid is function. This is where the rubber meets the road. You have an idea, how do you execute it? The product needs to do more than just accomplish the task -- it must deliver on the promise of the idea. If the idea is great, but the product doesn't work well, it will cause people to become disenchanted, and then they will deride the product online. Get enough 1- or 2-star reviews on Amazon and the product will fail. It might do well at first, but once word gets out, beware. It is much better to sweat the details and take the time to get it right.
I have seen more good ideas fail for rushing through this part of the process than for any other reason. Inventors, entrepreneurs or companies are in a rush to get the product out, and so release it with what eventually become disappointing flaws. Never rush your product if it’s not functioning properly. Spend the time on the details. Product development is a nonlinear and often frustrating process, and does not necessarily adhere to your deadlines. Launch a product before it's ready and all the work you just did will be wasted. Make sure to address potentially frustrating aspects of a product as well as its main functions.
The last layer of the Pyramid is design. Design is where the product takes its final form. You could take the same exact innovation with the same exact functionality and either win or lose based on the look. Design is the tip of the Pyramid because it is the point of the arrow where you target your customer.
Design is used to emotionally engage the consumer, and emotion is the basis for the vast majority of purchases. I am thrilled to see that design is finally becoming prevalent, but there are still lots and lots of products released without good consideration of design.
If you look at the products that really blow up big, they always have great innovation, great execution and great design in common. Because the Perfect Product Pyramid is so simple, it is easy to remember and use. So before you launch your product, make sure to step back and take a look through this lens that I use and make sure you like what you see. If not, don't rush it.
Spend time to get things just the way you want them to be. Better to delay and get things right than launch too soon. Reaching the top of the pyramid is tough work, but well worth the climb.