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How to improve nonwoven new product development.

How To Improve Nonwoven New Product Development

a nonwovens industry consultant offers a six point program for guiding new nonwoven product development While many nonwovens manufacturers spend adequately on market research for new products, some slowing has been noted in recent years by firms taking a less than long-term view of their business. The market leaders generally make development expenses appropriate for this industry, but sometimes there is a certain amount of management disappointment and frustration over the lack of rapid commercialization of new nonwovens-related products.

Sometimes this disappointment stems from one or more flaws in the development process. Typical problems in this process may include:

*Inadequate Customer Knowledge: Customer contacts may not be well enough structured or coordinated to determine the customer's real level of product satisfaction and, most importantly, their unmet product needs.

*Inadequate or Improper Concept Screening: Some nonwoven product concepts are never tested with customers, or they are not tested correctly.

*Insufficient Prototype/Product Testing: Many nonwoven companies do not often adequately test their new products; admittedly, some companies do this very well.

Based on our experience and observations, we can suggest a simple six-point checklist to guide new product development. There is nothing particularly new about these steps, but they should probably be restated.

*Fully understand user's current attitudes and product usage patterns.

*Properly identify unmet needs, through coordinated and professional contact with the customer base.

*Using the same professional customer interface, later screen initial prototypes and ideas before expending significant R&D budgets.

*Augment the customer generated information with independent and controlled input from the sales force, making them a part of the development process and its later success.

*Develop an on-target marketing strategy to successfully complement the product development activity.

*Tie all this information together by developing a thorough profile and understanding of the market.

Understanding Attitudes

Understanding the user's current attitudes and usage patterns is accomplished through primary market research contacts. These contacts are usually through mail and/or telephone and the quantity must be based on the customer population.

Unless a nonwovens company is accomplishing this type of market contact every two years, and sometimes more frequently if market activity mandates it, it is usually falsely assuming an understanding of the marketplace. For companies seeking entry into a new market, this step is critical and should occur before any serious product development commences and again before launching the product.

Recently we completed an attitude and usage study among key institutional users of a nonwoven-containing product. The study was conducted for a company interested in acquiring this product line and who recognized the need for an objective input regarding the merits of the product perceived by its current users.

This nonwovens company recognized the need to understand, from the user's perception, how well the brand it was considering had been developed by its current owners. The results of this work enabled the company to make a judgement on the value of the brand, identify any potential changes necessary in its design and confirm the degree of existing customer loyalty.

Identifying Unmet Needs

Properly identifying unmet customer needs that translate to product discoveries should be an ongoing process of regular customer contact by company personnel, supplemented by a professionally conducted panel discussion. Many nonwovens companies assume they know how to talk with existing or potential customers--but they may not.

Several years ago, we conducted a series of focus group (panel) discussions among users of a nonwoven medical product. These tests were designed to establish the merits of a minor modification in components used in combination with the nonwoven. During the discussion, unmet needs were specifically addressed and ideas for two new product concepts emerged.

One of these ideas was later developed into a new product line addition that went on to represent 20% of the total sales of the product line. The new product was patented, had a strong position against competition and stabilized the sales of the remaining 80% of the volume in the product line.

Screening Product Concepts

Consciously screening the concepts suggested before expending significant research and development budgets should include using the same type of panel sessions. These permit customers to see how their colleagues react to a product concept and then build improved versions of the original idea. They can also prove invaluable in isolating key product features and benefits for later marketing strategies.

A series of focus groups we recently conducted helped a company refine its early product development efforts for a technology that had application across a number of markets. The focus groups enabled the client to identify, early on in their technology evolution, the markets in which their prototypes performed the best, fulfilled the greatest unmet need and were closest to potential commercialization.

Without this type of effort, the company would have aggressively pursued all of its new prototypes, expending unnecessary research dollars only to later find that more than half of their efforts were in the development of products/prototypes for which there was no real need.

Involving The Salesforce

Giving the sales force an active part in new product discovery is smart because it often knows a lot about its customers' needs but may lack the proper outlet or training to communicate the information.

This can be accomplished through professionally conducted panel sessions at sales meetings or other appropriate gatherings and can make the sales force a vital part of a team effort in product development. These sessions can be run before or after the customer panels, either for identifying new or screening suggested product concepts.

Profiling Markets

Tying all the information together in a market profile is basic to the successful launch of any new product. Some smaller companies may have little or no capability for generating sound data regarding the size of their markets and need to rely entirely on outside expertise. In larger companies, a fact-gathering effort within the company, supplemented with outside data collection and objective review of the findings, may provide the necessary profile.

One project we recently completed established a customer's new technology market at two to three times the level of their internal estimates. This information enabled them to move far more quickly to a capital appropriation for this technology and should eventually allow them to develop a leadership-first entry position in their major markets.

Developing Strategies

Developing marketing strategies should be a team effort, including company personnel and, where and if appropriate, a consulting resource well versed in the subject business.


Several important benefits are provided with the above approach to new product development. The nonwovens company is able to maintain intimate and broad-based customer contact. New ideas are freely allowed to develop. False product development starts can be greatly reduced. There is a continuity of market intelligence often not found even in the largest nonwoven companies. And, finally, participants in the process sense the team efforts toward new product development are producing meaningful successes of which they have been a part.

There are a number of steps that can be implemented immediately from within the company. Research and development personnel can spend more time in the field. Conversations with customers can be predesigned and more structured with the same subjects being pursued by marketing, sales and R&D and the results analyzed.

Direct sales force involvement can be implemented through the establishment of a senior sales representative panel. The panel can be specifically assigned the responsibility of identifying and screening new products and providing a review of this screening to management at sales meetings.

John R. Starr, Inc., Osterville, MA, is well known for its expertise in the nonwoven products business, including its involvement in primary market research connected to new product development efforts. During the company's 20 years of consulting work, predominantly in the worldwide nonwoven products business, it has observed the ways a large number of companies pursue research and new product development.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Caffrey, Richard
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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