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Five new product development questions you should ask when launches fail to meet market expectations


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The law of averages has a clear track record of handing out losses to anyone bold enough to roll out a new product. The best comics bomb, Hall of Fame hitters fail more than 60% of the time, and Michelin star chefs have meals sent back. It happens. The key is learning from misses and positioning future projects for success.

A failed launch feels like wearing the Scarlet Letter in new product development circles. From ideation to launch, companies invest a lot of resources (and trust) into projects that are supposed to generate handsome ROI. So when innovation falls flat, the fallout can be uncomfortable. But here’s the deal: Launches will fail. And that’s OK.

The law of averages has a pretty clear track record of handing out losses to anyone bold enough to roll out a new product. The best comics bomb, Hall of Fame hitters fail more than 60% of the time, and Michelin star chefs have meals sent back. It happens. The key is learning from misses and positioning future projects for success.

So when (not if) your new product launch fails to meet expectations, go back and ask these five critical questions to get back on the right track for the next launch and beyond.

1. Did the launch fail because of the product, the timing—or both?

There’s a big difference between solving an existing problem and solving one that hasn’t yet emerged. In 2002, the first tablet flopped. It was bulky and expensive, and to be honest, many consumers were still getting used to having a desktop computer at home. As we know, Apple launched the iPad in 2010 and, to this day, gets all the glory for tablet innovation.

When a product that you believe is truly innovative fails, you must take a good hard look at why. Being the first isn’t always the most advantageous route if customers aren’t ready for the problem your product solves. And if there are usability issues with the product, your chances of success—no matter how innovative the product is—are limited. As the iPad proved, it’s often best to shelve innovation until the market catches up and you’ve perfected the product.

According to recent research conducted by Consumer Goods Technology (CGT) and Sopheon, nearly 40% of new products fail to meet profit objectives. The latest CGT research infographic explains why new products fail to meet revenue projections, and the common challenges CPG companies face when innovating and launching new products.


2. Were we solving a problem?

I believe that cool for the sake of cool is an express route to a failed launch. If an innovative product fails to meet expectations, scrutinize the problem you attempted to solve. Or, to be blunt, determine whether it’s a problem. It’s easy to become enamored with being the first to market with a product that does something groundbreaking. Still, it would be best if you coupled the wow factor with the ability to easily eliminate customer pain points.

3. Was the product’s learning curve too steep?

Sometimes a new product is both innovative and solves a problem, but it flops because customers don’t fully understand why they need it. You want a product to be intuitive right out of the box, but that isn’t always possible. Examine your marketing strategy to identify how your message failed to resonate with your targeted audience and try to refine it.

Other times, the issue rests in customers not understanding how to use the product. As technology progresses, market tolerance for unintuitive technology is shrinking drastically. So it’s essential to scrutinize how steep the learning curve for your application is and whether there’s a better way to educate customers.

4. Were there collaborative workflow breakdowns?

New product development requires collaboration across multiple teams with different ideologies and working styles. It’s more important than ever for organizations to incorporate collaborative workflow processes that give stakeholders a clear line of sight into what each department is doing, where each stands in pushing the product to the next phase, and what the timeline is for each to meet deadlines. Without that visibility, critical details that impact the long-term success of a new product can fall through the cracks, leading to a less-than-optimal offering.

5. Can our product portfolio gain anything from the failed launch?

Go back over the truly innovative components of the offering and look across your organization's product portfolio. Perhaps there’s an existing product that could be enhanced by innovative components of the failed product launch. Or see if there are ways the “bright and shiny” aspects can be redeveloped to address the problems your customers need to be solved.

Out of every disaster comes at least one gold nugget. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find it, while other times, it’s sitting pretty close to the surface. But what’s clear is that you can (and must) mine valuable lessons from a failed new product launch. You may be able to apply what you’ve learned quickly to address the problem and turn the launch around. Or perhaps the lessons you learn will prepare you for the long game.

It is essential to keep tabs on what you’ve learned from your stumbles and use them to shape future iterations of new product development processes. Those lessons will serve as a guidebook to keep you from making the same mistake twice. And that should always be the goal.

Our new e-book, “Four ways executives can accelerate innovation and new product development,” offers insight on how you can promote more profitable NPD, accelerate enterprise growth and achieve long-term success. Download it now.

Innovation Management, Sopheon

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