Nothing Wrong With Thinking Big When It Comes to New Products

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Watching an enlightening new production of Lillian Hellman's 1939 play The Little Foxes here at Arena Stage the other night, I should have had my pen out. A quote early on really struck me. It went sort of like, "We have to do something new—that's the only way to make money these days."

The play takes place in 1900 so it's fun to think that 116 years ago had similar "these days" to today. Two brothers and a sister are trying to get the money to finance a new cotton mill in the Alabama town where they richly inhabit. Now on a scale of new products, a cotton mill may be on the high end from a webinar or niched event, but nothing wrong with thinking big.

Victoria Mellor (pictured) would agree. She co-founded and led Melcrum for many years along with husband and business partner Robin Crumby before recently selling and starting Novatum Group. I found an old article from the Financial Times that said that Melcrum started taking off when she and Crumby decided to focus on increasing the gross profit rather than just raising sales.

"They also started creating new products, such as bespoke research for their biggest clients, which could sell for £20,000, rather than the £175 newsletters and £500 training manuals that had been their bread and butter."

They created a membership group for about 30 of their biggest clients, who would pay for one-on-one meetings with Melcrum researchers so publications could be tailored to their specific issues. "It is almost like they are paying us to do our product development," Mellor said.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, SIPA will feature a dynamic webinar titled Incorporating the Customer Voice into New Product Development starring Mellor and another exceptional leader: Elizabeth Petersen, executive vice president, HCPro. Register here for this webinar.

Petersen (pictured) and Mellor share an interest in communication. Melcrum succeeded in elevating the role of internal communications as a critical driver of superior business performance. Petersen speaks often about communication's important role in developing new products.

"Innovation without collaboration doesn't work, especially in the publishing world," she told me earlier this year. "To ensure cross-departmental engagement, each group needs to be involved as early on in the new product development process as possible. And while collaboration can be seen as a 'soft' skill, there are ways to structure better communication...

"There are so many different communication preferences and learning styles, and we do our employees a disservice to assume a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate communication. At BLR, we use the Predictive Index to learn more about how our employees communicate and socially interact. That tool has helped me understand the best methods to share information and set expectations with my team."

The three 2016 SIPAward winners for Best Marketing for a New Product have all been profiled on these pages and are worth taking a look if you haven't seen them:

  • OR a.m. provided OR Manager with a successful transition from weekly to daily.
  • Cynopsis Media established their Rising Star awards which are only getting bigger and better.
  • DecisionHealth partnered with a key player in the industry, resulting in a successful new product.

Each of these winners put together team efforts to succeed. That would make Petersen proud. She puts complete trust in her staff and expects them to take full responsibility.

"Accountability starts with early involvement in product development, and budget transparency," she said. "We share and discuss our divisional financials at least on a quarterly basis and give employees access to detailed P&Ls so that they can monitor individual products' performance. We also engage our staff—no matter what level—in revenue and cost projections at the start of the new product process."

Little Foxes gets pretty nasty but the cotton mill still seems to be on its way. Be it 1900 or 2016, the "new" cannot be stopped. Best to be on board.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…