I once attended a marketing event where a company I know well presented a broad suite of new products. The company boasted about 10 new products, but there was a catch that very few people (including myself) knew: at least half of those products didn’t work.

Many years ago, an employer of mine sold a suite of technology products to a giant multinational financial services firm. When that firm bought the products, they discovered that about two-thirds of the functionality was “in the pipeline” and that the product demonstrations were just mock-ups. They sued, and my employer was put out of business. Rather than having products whose functionality was “in the pipeline,” what my employer needed were minimum viable products.

Minimum viable products (MVP) are designed to have just enough features and functionality to be accepted by early adopters in the market. Once you’ve sold a few, you mine user feedback to design additional features or functions. If you’re trying to have an active product pipeline, it’s a great way to continually introduce products quickly while enhancing your existing products – sort of a paid beta test.

The middle word in that acronym is crucial to success. The product needs to be viable. In other words, it has to work and provide value. It’s not unusual, particularly in the technology sector, for companies to pop out some half-baked product and expect early adopters to buy it, even though it doesn’t work. Most often that’s due to the company putting out a whole bunch of ideas at once based on a concept or piece of intellectual property without fully realizing any of them to the point that they’re truly viable.

If you’re managing a product pipeline and considering what makes it viable, you should consider these three things:

  • Value proposition – what customer problem does the product solve? Unless you believe you’re creating a completely new market, you need to solve an existing problem for a customer. If you do think you’re creating a completely new market, I’d encourage you to consider the scale and scope of that potential market, as well as your marketing position. Many new markets require starting in a hybrid marketing position, where your product provides high perceived value at a low price. This position becomes untenable quickly, which then requires you to determine a new position.
  • Function – the product needs to function so that it fulfills the value proposition reasonably and consistently in a way a customer would expect. If you miss out on this point, you lose market credibility before you’ve gained significant market share. Let’s define the italicized points. Reasonably, by the dictionary definition, infers that the product fulfills the value proposition to a moderate degree in a sensible way. If the perceived value of the product could be described as less than moderate, or if it’s difficult or cumbersome to get value from the product, you need to rethink the function. Consistently indicates that you should get the same value results from the same inputs. Again, if there’s significant variation in results with the same inputs, the product doesn’t meet the standard. In a way a customer would expect indicates that customer inputs are relatively easy, and that outputs are presented predictably in a way which provides value.
  • Core message – how do you explain the value proposition of this product to the market? If you know there’s value, but you can’t tell me about it, there’s no value. Market research can help. Describe the product’s function to a focus group of prospects and ask them how they might use the product, and what value they feel that use creates. If they can’t figure out what good it is, then your product isn’t viable.

An ongoing product pipeline can be crucial to success in many industries, but launching products too soon can devastate your market reputation. Consider the true viability of a product with these three factors before launching to help ensure success.

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