I recently read an interesting article by Monika Wingate concerning the importance of iteration while developing a new product (iterative voice of the customer). By using examples from Google and Slack, she emphasizes the importance of a periodic "consultation" of customers during the whole NPD life cycle. The marketing/R&D team should indeed never stop to ask questions to the users, especially when the NPD process seems to be on the wrong track. On this respect she states:
Unfortunately, the research methods that are so helpful at making go/no-go decisions don’t answer these questions.
We could not agree more on the necessity of consulting the user at every phase of the whole NPD project, from the conception phase until the launch. This for the following reasons:
- User attitudes might change over the time: sometimes an NPD cycle lasts several months (years in certain sectors). How could you be sure that the customer needs on which you based the design are still the same?
- You might have asked the wrong questions: some of questions of your initial survey could reveal useless in later phases. For instance you might have asked "do you wear your glasses during sport activities" whereas the good question was "do you wear your glasses during jogging?".
- New questions arise at later stages of the NPD process: this is the most typical case: typically as you switch from design to development some features become unavailable, you need to prioritize requirements, new ideas rise, new potential uses, etc. All of these issues translate into new questions for the user.
Running a new survey/focus group in all these situations is of course out of question, not only for cost problems, but also because of time constraints: in most cases you need an answer now, and not in ten days. Semantic analysis of social media is a good way to find answers in an effective, non intrusive way, at any time you need them (iterative voice of the customer).
Assume that in the set up phase of your NPD project you decided to use as sources, say, 4 forums and two reviews sites, focused on products similar to the one you are going to develop. In that phase you have an analysis which is based on the past. It is of course up to you to decide to consider the last ten years of activity on those media, rather than the last six month or the last two weeks, that's mostly a matter of product life cycle. As you move from market analysis to successive phases, users will continue discussing: it is important to automatically monitor these changes, as they might contains shifts in user attitudes which might impact the product under development. If you detect them you can react, if you miss them you run the risk of building a product on outdated user needs, which is a typical cause of product flop.
If the constant growth of social media gives us a way to react to changes in attitude (as long as the application is able to detect them automatically), the issue of wrong or unexpressed questions implies a technical solution. Indeed it mainly concerns the capabilities of the tool to be used to "interrogate" your sources. The crucial point is of course dynamism: you might have asked it at the beginning which was the "intention to buy" attitude of bikes with carbon frame. What if you realize that the right question was rather about "intention to buy" attitude with respect to bikes with light frames (including e.g. aluminum)? Well in a handful of clicks and few hours of analysis you must be able to give yourself an answer: is the trend going towards light bikes or rather towards carbon frame bikes?
The same holds also for questions arising directly from the development cycle: you discover that with a relatively small investment you will be able to provide your customers with a product features not originally planned. Is it worth? The answer is of course there: people on social media has surely commented that specific feature, just you were not interested at the beginning. But the semantic engine underling a platform such as VoU captures any possible product feature irrespective if it was interesting for you in the initial phase: as such it can be "questioned" at any time.
To sum up we believe that the issue on iterations and dynamism (continuous and iterative voice of the customer analysis) raised by Monika is critical for NPD, and is likely to become more and more critical in the future. And, as we have seen, thanks to social media analysis for new product development, there is really no need to renounce to it.