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The Need for Product Innovation

products, product innovation, product modification, marketing, selling, product life cycle

Developing new products and launching them in the marketplace can be a difficult, costly and even dangerous business. So why do it? Why not leave well alone and be content with profit from existing products, concentrating effort on expanding sales of these products and finding new markets for them?

One reason is that seizing new opportunities as they emerge is a way to increase profits. (To be first in the field with a successful new product gives one the chance of creaming off large profits before effective competition develops.) But the main reason is that it is dangerous to assume that profits from existing products will continue at present levels for ever. The product life-cycle concept tells us that they will certainly not continue for ever. At different rates, over varying time-scales, all products eventually achieve market saturation and then start to decline. Even while sales volume holds up, profits may well not; and retaining sales volume and profits may call for regular updating of existing products.

For most companies, therefore, a programme of product review and development is essential; and, for all companies, to ignore this area of activity is highly dangerous. A McGraw-Hill study in the United States showed that in 1963 the percentage of sales accounted for by products introduced since 1959 was 28 per cent for transportation, 18 per cent for electrical machinery, and so on, through a whole list of categories. In the consumer goods fields successful new products introduced more recently -include a wide range of increasingly sophisticated computer games, the 'superglues' and a whole host of preprepared meals for cooking by microwave.

In consumer durables we have seen the successful introduction of video cameras and answering machines, with mobile telephones and fax machines for home use not far behind. Innovative services (intangible products) include direct purchase of insurance by telephone and 'home banking'.

The most 'safe' and inexpensive way to launch a 'new' product is modifying an existing product.

New Products from Old

We first need to be clear what is a new product. There are basically three clear kinds of new products:
1. Innovative products which are unique products for which there is a real need, not being met satisfactorily by an existing product. Penicillin when first introduced fell into this category, as did the telephone, the internal combustion engine, and chloroform. We can also describe as innovative those products which, while replacing existing goods that have been satisfying existing markets quite well, offer totally different solutions. Examples would be television partially replacing the cinema and the radio, the zip fastener and later Velcro instead of strings or buttons, and solar power for other energy sources;
2. Adaptive products which offer significantly different variations on existing products: they include such items as instant coffee, freeze-dried foods, self-adhesive wallpaper, and typewriters with a memory. Another kind of variation is represented by package changes, styling modifications, new designs and colours.
3. Imitative products are already being sold by someone else but further sales opportunities exist for an additional brand, with or without minor modifications. The divisions between these categories are obviously very fuzzy. Indeed, some authors have distinguished as many as a dozen different ways in which a product can be 'new'.

The truly innovative product is rare. Adaptive new products can sometimes necessitate a great deal of new technology and extensive research and development, though a 'new' product can often be produced by changes to an existing one. These may range from relatively minor changes, which effectively extend the life-cycle of a product, to much more extensive improvements.
An example quoted by Peter Drucker that covers both is nylon, which was introduced in the U.S.A. by Du Pont and fairly rapidly became the dominant fiber in women's hosiery. However, once this market was saturated, the growth curve flattened. Du Pont had anticipated this and had developed strategies for providing further increases in sales of nylon stockings by such tactics as the following:
1. Introducing a wider range of colors, leading to an increase in the number of stockings bought by each user and a tendency to wear different colors with different outer garments.
2. Developing new uses, such as stretch stockings and socks. In addition, they moved into other fields such as tyre cord and carpets. In this way nylon sales showed an overlapping series of life-cycle curves, giving a continuing upward trend.

The nylon success story depended both upon changing the product for existing users and making it suitable for whole new markets. Changing products for existing markets can be done in a number of ways, in particular by improvements in quality, features, and/or style.
Published: 2007-04-29
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

www.martin-hahn.net

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