Why do some companies succeed in taking a product to market while many others fail? What are the necessary steps that are critical to getting that product, especially in the consumer setting, onto a retail shelf and pulled off that shelf effectively so a company makes money? My name is George O’Shea. I work in consulting with many small companies trying to take a technology or a product to market.

Case Study: Keurig

I went to a product development company that was getting involved with Keurig coffeemakers. They had no idea how to take a product to retail, so working with the owner of the company—Proteus at the time—I helped them with the strategy. At that point, there was a lot of marketplace confusion, pod coffeemakers were coming in from Europe. In addition, the price points we worked down from $50 to $20, and it was an absolute nightmare for retailers like Target that had nine cases on the shelf and couldn’t sell a piece of product.

Proteus made it so that a U.S. consumer familiar with using the K-Cup could take it to the retail marketplace, put it on their countertop, and make that product sing. What’s interesting is that we took the product out into the marketplace at $150 and north, with retailers Macy’s and above as far as the channels went—and the product blew out of the shelves. The company grew from $15 million to a $5 billion juggernaut. That put them on the map as a technology-type company that understood what the consumer wanted, delivered a beautiful product to them, put a brand on it that nobody heard of, and the product was a home run success.

Case Study: SharkNinja

Building on that success, I decided that we could infuse technology into the housewares space. We could also go out and build brands like we did with other companies and put those powerful brands on a retailer’s shelf. We keyed in on a local company, Euro-Pro, that is now SharkNinja. Inside of the company was a product that was not a home run success: the full-sized food processor. What made that an interesting project, however, is that they got involved with live retailers. They made a promise to these retailers that they’d deliver that quality product, they manufactured it overseas and then brought it in at the right price point. As the cherry on top, they put some story behind it that would take sales from $29.99 to up over $50.

The Ninja brand came about because we dug deep into the product itself. We gained a thorough understanding of what the value proposition was. Inside of the blender and the food processor that we were playing with was an enormous blade and it was a polarizing feature on a product that we thought could be very compelling. We came up with a great idea to take that polarizing feature and we turned that into the hero of the product. We named it Ninja. Ninja implied power, ninja implied quickness, ninja frankly implied that the product itself would be a killer product. To soften the Ninja, we came up with a picture of a woman in a ninja power pose and we came up with the tag line “Rule the kitchen.” So we softened the features on a masculine product, we incorporated a woman to rule the kitchen, and the branding of the Ninja took place inside of that room in one afternoon.

The reason it was a grand slam home run is because the founder of the company was a grand slam client. Success came from challenging external resources to use fresh outside eyes that were seasoned, and actually working with the people in the building to not only educate them but also to learn from them about what went on inside of that building. The product hit the marketplace in 2009. The company was a $250 million company and today they are a $2 billion operation.

Unlike most companies, Ninja got behind the product. They understood from day one that in order to be successful with their product development they needed to tell a story, but they needed to tell the story against multiple items. It couldn’t be a one-time item, and it couldn’t be a one-time story. Immediately they went to work on coming up with compelling features and other products to not only strengthen the brand, but also to capture a premium consumer with an aspirational product.

Engage with the Consumer

Companies like Keurig and Ninja have figured out how to engage with consumers up front. They’ve gone to outside resources and collaborated with them to help them put these consumers inside their building. With Keurig it was brilliant, because they had a strategy to get K-Cups onto the retail shelves across the United States, in particular in food accounts, which is hard distribution to gain. They lined up K-Cups everywhere you could walk. If you walk into a Bed Bath and Beyond, K-Cups went all the way to the ceiling. That’s hard retail to crack. Part of Keurig’s genius was in calculating that the average consumer walks through a grocery store twice a week, and for the customer to see shelves and shelves of K-Cups meant more exposure and therefore more sales.

We designed a beautiful product. We put an envelope around really smart technology, but until that product was actually sitting at eye level where the consumer could find it, go home, put that piece of product inside that K-Cup, and decide they want a bold cup of coffee or an Italian roast this morning, there was no product. They did the marketing research, and they did it right. Keurig invested in marketing research until they sold their company.

Do Your Research

The reason the Keurig and the Ninja stories were successful and that their stories resonate with me is because so many things were done properly. The first thing that most companies fail to do when they decide they have a compelling product is research. By stepping aside from the research, they have no idea if that product is going to be something that the consumer is going to gravitate toward and decide it’s a great product. Oftentimes the person that dreams up the product is so deeply wedded to the product that they don’t want holes poked in that product because they’re convinced that it’s a great product and they can take it to the marketplace.

Oftentimes they overestimate how smart they are. They seem to forget that there’s a whole team that’s needed to go out and take that product out to the market. They dismiss the idea that sales and marketing and product development are important. They see the vision and they understand the vision. They’re always in touch with the end result, but to take it from the idea stage to the end result are many steps in between that they have to touch base on.