A Winning New Product Starts With Identifying Customer Problems

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"Identify the problem," Jim Sinkinson told us last year in a session on developing new products. "Customers aren't going to tell you what kind of product to develop. They're only going to tell you what their habits are and what the problems are. It's up to you to determine the solution."

That quote came to mind this morning when I read about an invention developed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to help his wife Priscilla get regular sleep, explained in his Instagram post yesterday:

"Being a mom is hard, and since we've had kids Priscilla has had a hard time sleeping through the night. She'll wake up and check the time on her phone to see if the kids might wake up soon, but then knowing the time stresses her out and she can't fall back asleep. So I worked on building her what I call the "sleep box." It sits on her nightstand, and between the hours of 6-7am it emits a very faint light—visible enough that if she sees it she'll know it's an okay time for one of us to get the kids, but faint enough that the light won't wake her up if she's still sleeping."

Here are 5 more beginnings to successful new publishing products:

Send subscriber surveys and act on them. EB Medicine's video product High-Risk Emergencies: Greatest Hits & Misses resulted from a 2017 subscriber survey that prompted them to fast-track the launch. One in 10 practicing emergency clinicians who responded said they liked watching videos to learn about the latest treatments/therapies/protocols for the presentations and conditions in the ER. When they asked the same question of emergency medicine residents (their near-future and potentially career-long subscribers), 22% cited video as their preference, a higher percentage than for any other medium.

Respond to a government mandate. Heads of quality management in food production in Germany are legally obliged to train their employees according to the Infection Protection Law. This applies to employees in all categories of the food industry. If training is not conducted, the government can impose major penalties. So Behr's Verlag created Infection Protection Law: Video in 10 Languages for Obligatory Training—an educational package on food safety containing a video, brochures also in 10 languages, and templates of certificates and instruction cards. "We have reached a big target group where everybody has the same problem," said CEO Arno Langbehn.

Visit the customer. Columbia Books & Information Services knew that the Military Officers Association of America wanted some type of training course for their board members. But it took many meetings to decide the exact format, topics and materials that would be needed for the course. It was determined that a hybrid live and virtual on-demand training would be the best fit. The live training was scheduled for the morning before the annual board meeting to ensure proper financial knowledge leading into the board meeting and set a tone of responsibility.

Speak with and observe customers at events. A marketing manager at Simplify Compliance heard something interesting. Although electronic coding had definitely gained popularity, many people in the field still relied heavily on their books— sometimes even in conjunction with electronic coding products. At events, they would see customers flipping through competitors' manuals, marking up with notes and comments and saying how easy they were to use and read. So at the largest industry show, they put their own ICD-10-CM manual directly into coders' hands, generating leads and eventual income.

Move good interviews you're doing to podcasts. President and CEO Matt Priest of Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America would attend events throughout the world and have entertaining, informative, off-the-cuff talks with cool people in the industry. It made him think. "If we can just take these conversations we're having with executives and bring them to other people who aren't CEOs, we would have something special." Thus the Shoe-In podcast came to be. More than 150 episodes later, and the weekly "shoe" is going stronger than ever. Ask your editorial people about their interviews.

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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…