Bringing a new product to market is not a simple task that can beat even the biggest market players. Fun fact — have you ever heard of Coca-Cola C2? Probably not. But we all know Coca-Cola Zero. Taking the example of a giant from the carbonated drink industry, let’s think together, what makes some products commercially successful, while some quickly disappear into oblivion?
The prototype of Coca-Cola Zero — Coca-Cola C2 — was created for men who like the taste of Cola, but who don’t drink it that often due to its high calorie and carbohydrate content. Admittedly, Diet Coke (in Europe better known as Coca-Cola Light) has been on the market since 1982, but the management of The Coca-Cola Company stated that this was “too feminine” a product. That is why in 2004 the C2 version was released, which, despite the idea and the famous advertising campaign, was replaced by another product a year later. Where did Coca-Cola go wrong and why did it fail at the strategy and product discovery stage?
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Using the Coca-Cola C2 example, it would seem that its creators had done their homework. They created a product with future recipients in mind: men aged 20-40 who want the taste of Cola, but in a diet version. Of course, the aforementioned Diet Coke was sugar-free, but the design was aimed at women, and the taste was different compared to regular Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola C2 was created in response to such needs, which was also to fit into the then trend of low-carbohydrate products. Logically, success should be guaranteed, but something went wrong.
The Coca-Cola Company did its research and saw a gap to fill, but did not understand the needs of its audience well enough. The C2 product retained the flavour of the original Coca-Cola, but the number of calories and carbohydrates was only cut in half. Thus, it could be called a low or reduced carbohydrate drink, but not what the recipients expected. The disagreement and the desire to fit in with the prevailing trends led Coca-Cola’s management astray, and Coca-Cola C2 turned out to be a failure on a large scale. Re-analysing the needs and moods of the target group resulted in Coca-Cola Zero appearing on the market just a few months later — no sugar and no calories, but with the full flavour of traditional Coca-Cola. Looking at today’s store shelves, this time consumers got what they expected.
Of course, not only Coca-Cola has product “setbacks” on its account. Sometimes the reason is the product under development (for example Microsoft and Windows Vista), and sometimes not understanding the recipient. Many companies wrongly assume that their product will sell because there is a need among customers. There must not only be wishful thinking but also conclusions drawn based on the collected and analysed data. Therefore, the subject of product discovery appears more and more often in product teams’ strategies and product owner’s discussions. Especially since this perfectly fits the trend of the agile approach — its foundations are flexible thinking, work in stages and quick response to changes.
There are still products on the market that users just don’t want to use. To find the reasons for failure it is necessary to collect and analyse data. This is a lengthy process, so you need to know that changes may be too late, or they may be too expensive, with the best solution being to withdraw the product from the offer.
The most common reasons for the unsuccessful introduction of a new product to the market:
- The product addresses a need that does not exist. The developers came up with a solution to the problem but did not pay enough attention to verifying that users needed their help;
- The need is well identified, but the solution is incorrect. The problem may be in technology (not very intuitive, difficult to use), communication (it seems to respond to a different need to that in reality) or even a legal one.
Product discovery is protection against committing the above mistakes. It’s verification of the value of the product, right from the stage of forming the idea.
Unfortunately, not all manufacturers include the discovery phase in the process of introducing a new product to market, frequently to the detriment of themselves and their offer. It is a complex process that helps:
Defining such aspects cannot only be based on gut feelings and ideas — you need in-depth analysis and validation of ideas. Because of the inclusion of the discovery phase, the maker gains a strong basis for believing that future customers will buy the product, will be satisfied with it and that their attachment to the brand will increase. It is also a stage in the project implementation process that allows you to justify that the investment made is justified from a business point of view.
There is no fixed plan for how to make the discovery phase as effective as possible. The aim of the research, research plan and research methods are always set individually for a specific project and its assumptions. The beginnings may seem chaotic as they require a holistic view of the product and its surroundings, only then focusing on specific directions in the later stages.
As we mentioned, the discovery product fits into agile methodologies, so hypotheses and methods may change along with the obtained research results and conclusions drawn from them. The research uses many methods, e.g., empathy (putting ourselves in the recipient’s shoes), observation (exploratory and ethnographic research, conversations, interviews, workshops, etc.), or quantitative methods (helpful in validating the hypotheses). The data collection cycle ends with the interpretation and drawing of conclusions (e.g., creating a person, defining the user’s needs or paths, etc.).
That does not necessarily mean the end of research — it can be repeated to deepen conclusions and discover new aspects. It also doesn’t have to be completed before the product enters the design phase. It can run in parallel, and parts of it can be validated directly on the market by the MVP approach.
The product discovery approach is particularly important nowadays when many companies are digitizing and fighting for customers in an environment that they might not yet fully understand. The introduction of digital products is often based on innovative solutions, but at the same time, there is a visible lack of understanding of the recipients’ needs on the market. Companies make similar mistakes when trying to translate processes one-to-one from the real world to the online world. Meanwhile, we buy differently on the Internet, we look for products differently, we have different expectations and other problems.
The strategy of the product and its sale must be thought out and include all the necessary stages, including product discovery. Because if Coca-Cola had focused on listening better to the needs of its target group, Coca-Cola Zero would have arisen earlier. Thus, the company would have saved on the production, distribution and advertising of the wrong product.
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