What Are the Benefits of Product Design in a Global Market?
Developing a product for sale is an art as well as a science. The art of product design —the act of creating a new product that a company intends to sell to its customers — is a process with many steps, producing several iterations of a concept or idea that are then refined into a final design. The overall goal of this process is to create a product that combines form and function and turns the concept into a tangible item that can then be sold to the customer.
In a global marketplace, product design offers the benefit of a new product that’s attractive and useful to the targeted customers and that meets the needs of that particular region's consumers.
A product design project can be launched either as a response to a problem or question or as a blank slate intended to generate something entirely new. In the first case, there could be a customer need that isn’t being met or an issue with declining sales in a certain product line that needs to be addressed.
In the second case, individuals are usually focused on the next breakthrough or big idea — something that can rejuvenate a company’s product portfolio. The process is generally the same no matter what initiates it. The only difference is that brainstorming to solve a problem will need to be more focused on that particular realm, whereas with a blank slate, all ideas may be valid.
The process of product design starts with innovation: a collection of new ideas from a brainstorming session, where there are no wrong answers and all options are on the table. This collection then goes through a review process where knowledgeable experts can sort the ideas by evaluating their feasibility, risk, potential rewards, appeal and any other desired metrics.
From there, the decision is made by the company’s executives, board and/or upper management. Often, multiple projects are chosen to proceed to the next step, which is the creation and construction of a prototype product. These prototypes are reviewed and then modified based on feedback, and this cycle repeats until the product is deemed ideal.
There are a number of ways to conceptualize this process, and the best method for a company will depend on the company’s products, markets and goals. There are a number of methodologies for turning concepts into sellable goods. Larger companies might even develop their own product design philosophies based on past successes.
There are a number of factors to consider within the product design process, and even at the brainstorming stage, awareness of these factors is crucial.
- Customer requirements: The customer will have certain expectations with regard to quality, safety, reliability, lifetime and so on. Any object that becomes a product will need to meet these requirements up front.
- Production capability: In the case of a tangible product, the existing production plant structure will need to be able to make the product. For intangible services or systems, the existing infrastructure will need to be able to make them happen. This may require capital investment.
- Raw material availability: The company will need to have stable, reliable sources of the raw materials required. Any new raw material streams will need to be confirmed to ensure quality.
- Cost and price: There should be a good understanding of the estimated cost to produce the new product as well as the expected price for which it can be sold. Comparing this cost to competitors can help refine the product design.
- Effect on the product portfolio: Often, new product lines can “cannibalize” existing product sales. Current customers choose to switch to the new product, leaving the old product unsold. The company needs to consider the effects of the new product on future production and future sales and adjust the mix accordingly.
- Company brand: A business that has taken time to build a company image in the mind of consumers will expect any new products to meet this image. For example, a company known for its environmental awareness should consider whether new products help build that image or counteract it.
It may seem like the product design process is too complicated and complex, and business owners may be tempted to streamline it to get a product on the market quickly. However, good product design can mean the difference between market success and product failure.
A good product design must be both innovative and useful, and the benefits of good product design cannot be overstated. It’s important to make sure the product does something new and different and that what it does is useful for the average consumer.
These two pieces go hand in hand: a research department might be able to suggest 10 new ideas for products, but if these ideas don’t focus on making the product functional in a way that makes the customers want it, then they won’t become good products. Not all innovations become new products. The focus needs to be on the customers' needs and wants.
Good product design also considers quality. What factors will communicate quality to the customer at the time of purchase and throughout the lifetime of the product? This can mean that even the aesthetics of the product are an important part of its design.
Durability and reliability are also part of quality and should be considered during the design process. Is the expected lifetime a year or 10 years? These are all factors that will have value to the customer and need to be expressed within the product design.
The product design process is important because it’s the pathway that links the new concept and the customer’s purchase. Simply having a new product isn’t enough. The product has to be attractive to the customer at a price that represents its value and has to be able to communicate to the customer what advantages it has over other alternatives.
This is why the product design process can have many iterations. Having teams evaluate the product concept from all of these different angles and then using those suggestions to further evolve the idea is the best way to smooth out the edges and ensure the best possible product at the end point.
Companies that operate in multiple markets have another factor to consider within this process: There is no one-size-fits-all option in the global marketplace. Global markets vary for a number of reasons. Different cultures, priorities, economic states, laws and regulations and logistics can mean a product that succeeds in the United States might fail in Europe.
The company needs to be aware of the different expectations that different regions will have and should offer products that suit these different needs. However, no company wants to have hundreds of slightly different options in its product portfolio because that level of complexity comes with a cost and rarely succeeds.
The globalization of a product often starts by choosing a core platform product and then offering variations on that core product for different target markets. This offers a balance between streamlining and customization, which makes it easier for both research and development and the manufacturing plants. The company then can be known worldwide for the product, enhancing its brand image while also being able to deliver different versions of the product depending on the region’s needs.
Localization of the product involves researching that region’s markets to determine what key characteristics will be important in that market. Local competition will be different by region, which may change how the product is marketed. Some regions may be more expensive for importing goods, which can affect the product’s price.
Customer needs will certainly vary — for example, consider a company developing a new tire with improved durability. Customers in Russia will expect the tire to have good ice traction, which is unlikely to be a priority for customers in Brazil. Thus, the company might develop multiple versions of the durable tire for regions with different weather patterns.
Alternatively, a fast food company looking to develop a new global product might offer something different in regions that are predominantly Muslim, where pork is forbidden. Regions will have their own needs, wants and preferences.
At the very end of the product development process is the launch of the new product, and a key portion of that is marketing. Good marketing strategy will make the customers aware of the new offering, the new advantages it offers and how it provides value. For a company designing products for foreign markets, the marketing strategy must consider how to offer a unified message on the product while still highlighting regional needs.
Global marketing strategies for new products should always contain the following:
- Uniform brand names: This helps the brand carry a strong central message no matter the region of sale.
- Identical packaging: This simplifies production, as all regions can receive the same packaging no matter the destination.
- Similar products: This matches the core product strategy. The products offered will be regionalized variations on the same product rather than entirely different lines for each area.
- Standardized advertising messages: While ads will need to be customized to different languages and media, the concept behind them should remain the same so that the same message about the product can be seen no matter where the consumer sees it.
- Synchronized pricing: Equal pricing across a global market is unlikely to succeed since countries have their own import, tariff, taxing and fees as well as their own financial marketplace. However, synchronizing the pricing means prices should be similar, and changes should occur in all regions simultaneously.
- Coordinated product launches: The new product should enter all of the global marketplaces at the same time and with the same availability.
- Alignment of sales campaigns: The sales strategy will need to be localized, but the overall campaign should be coordinated so that all pieces work together.
Every company needs to innovate and evolve in today’s swiftly moving marketplace, which means the generation of new product ideas should be a continuous process within the business. The key to product development is to pair new ideas with customer value, creating a new market while staying within the limitations of existing production capabilities, available capital and the company’s brand and image.
In a global marketplace, the product design process can get complicated by the varying needs of different regions, cultures and nations, but the core of the process remains the same: offering a new product that’s attractive to the targeted consumers.
The best way to ensure a product will be effective and successful in the global marketplace is to consider these issues very early on in the product design process, making sure there’s a core concept for the product that can be marketed in any region, understanding changes that will need to be made to the product and to the marketing scheme based on localization and ensuring a consistent message about the product that’s been slightly changed for each target market.