How To Improve Your Product
Product improvement is a data-driven process that should not be taken lightly. With the digital revolution well underway and companies seeming to come up with new product modifications on a regular basis, you need to keep on top of features and design preferences if you want to stay competitive.
That being said, there’s such a thing as overdoing it or missing the point. A good example of this is the recent release of Windows 11, which brought many new features, but prevented users from moving the taskbar. This led to a whole host of complaints and caused Microsoft to have to revert the change in late 2021.
Microsoft’s main mistake was to think about features, not usability. It doesn’t matter how brilliant or innovative your designs are if they’re laid out in a way that the users don’t like. People don’t like large amounts of change, and product improvement is no exception to that rule.
What should you do when envisioning new features and upgrades? Think about your customer base and what they use your products for. If you’re dealing with the general population, your products need to be easy to use and understand, at least on the surface level. If you’re looking at a more specialized or niche target audience, you might get away with a less straightforward product that has more available features.
With all this in mind, let’s dive into what happens when you improve your product, and how to go about doing it.
How to get started on improving your product
When you’re starting out, the task of product improvement can seem like a daunting one. Fortunately, there are a few categories of product modifications that you might find yourself looking into, and there are some general rules for each that can be followed in order to get the most out of your alterations.
Exploring new opportunities and avenues
If you want to expand, you’ve got to grow. One of the best ways to do this is by tapping into markets that you haven’t explored before. This kind of product improvement can come in two ways, adding new features to attract new customers, or expanding existing ones so that they reach a wider audience.
New opportunities (the “O” in a SWOT analysis) can be assessed by looking into usage cases of your product that you might have underestimated in the past. That is why completing a thorough SWOT analysis is key when starting to look into product improvement. Let’s say you discover that a consumer-base that does not belong to your go-to audience has been using your product—you would definitely want to tap into it.
It’s also possible to expand into new markets by creating new products specialized for them, but since that isn’t classed as product improvement we won’t talk about it here.
Addressing customer concerns
As evidenced by the Windows 11 example above, upgrades to features aren’t always what your customers want. You need to keep their needs and desires in mind when you implement changes, especially with more specialized products.
This is where listening to the Voice of the Customer comes into play. Only if you monitor your customers’ opinions in online reviews and social media you’ll be able to know their concerns and address them in your product updates.
Changes that address customer concerns are by their nature reactive rather than proactive, happening after you’ve received feedback on your product modifications. For this reason it can be helpful to keep receiving consumer feedback in the testing stages, rather than coming up with a finished design and hoping it goes down well. The term “beta testing” covers this idea, and while it’s mostly synonymous with the software industry it has applications elsewhere too.
Keeping up with the times
All products, but technology especially, can become stale and behind the times. Upgrading your products to match current expectations will keep your customer base interested, as well as have the potential to produce new features.
Or course this doesn’t just apply to technology. Environmental impact and ease of disposal or replacement is a great customer concern in current times, and older, less green products are being rejected over time by more and more of the population.
Keeping up with the times is about knowing what’s expected by consumers, which is distinct from what’s desired. If something is taken as an absolute necessity and you fail to provide it, you’re in for a bad time and bad publicity.
Depending on which of these categories your planned improvements fall into, you can adjust your approach to best suit it.
What can be improved in a product
Once you’ve figured out how you want to improve your product, you need to examine it and figure out what can be improved. You need to keep things practical after all, and whether it’s technological limits or manufacturing constraints there will always be something limiting your ability to improve your product to the “ideal” level.
Cost is another crucial factor in product improvements, as improving revenue and profits are almost always the ultimate aim of any business. There is no clear line that can be drawn at what would be considered worth the cost or not, it’s up to you to decide.
As success of new features won’t be visible in advance some organizations have adopted what’s called the “minimum viable product” approach, creating the most basic form of a product or feature for release in order to get feedback before committing their full budget to any one idea.
You should also prioritize features based on customer use, as these ones will see the most return on investment. Customer feedback will tell you which features are the most used, which are problem points and could do with some tweaks, etc.
What works and what doesn’t
You’re never going to be able to do everything exactly right. There’s always going to be things that have been missed in the ideas stage, unforeseen factors that cause complications and so on. That’s okay, everyone is only human and some mistakes are bound to crop up somewhere along the line. There are several key indicators that your modifications will prove successful, and some that indicate the opposite.
Signs of a great product modification plan:
- You’re solving a problem or adding something that consumers desire.
- Your plan is customer-centric.
- You’ve made your plan flexible enough to get around obstacles.
- You’ve defined your manufacturing limits and budget properly.
- You’ve factored the product life cycle into your plan.
The last item is especially important when it comes to product improvement as you need to assess how long this product will last on the market before a new one is required, and thus define what the limit of your improvements will be. Those products with relatively short life cycles such as mobile phones or software will receive far less in terms of upgrades with each iteration than products such as car models which require far more in order to be perceived by consumers as worth buying.
Aside from the opposite of the above, there are a few signs that your product plan needs rethinking:
- The modifications that you’re making would make your product too similar to another.
- There are hidden costs that you didn’t account for.
- The work is taking longer than expected.
None of these by themselves are reasons to drop your plans, merely signs that you need to re-assess them. The last point is especially important, as no matter how good your product is, people aren’t willing to wait forever and will lose interest over time. That being said, you shouldn’t rush the work either or you may end up with faulty products that fail to live up to expectations.
If you’re unsure on any of these points, you need to test, test, test! Alpha versions of products can be checked by your in-house team, with beta versions being made available to a small range of volunteer consumers in return for detailed feedback. Your plan should never be static, since new data means new information and new insights into what your customers want and how you might provide this.
How to analyze product data
Data is complicated, and you’re not going to be able to fully analyze it without software since the sheer volume would overwhelm any human who attempts it. Below you’ll find some of the commonly used analysis tools and a brief description of what they do:
- Text mining
Text mining is the process of reading through unsorted text and extracting information that might be useful to you. Generally any software that collects information from raw text will also transform it into an easy to read form, simplifying it by factoring in synonyms and other linguistic quirks.
- Sentiment analysis
Sentiment analysis is similar to text mining, except instead of simply pulling words out it looks at the meaning behind the words, or the sentiment that the text is meant to convey. This type of analysis is particularly useful for analyzing internet reviews or other short-form pieces of text that may contain slang or metaphors that simple text mining wouldn’t be able to pick up on
- Customer sentiment
Customer sentiment is a general measure of how customers feel about interactions with you. It’s gathered in a similar way to sentiment analysis, but goes a step further to sum up all the interactions or feedback you receive into a sliding scale of positive to negative. While simplistic, it’s a great way of checking how your products are doing in the early stages of testing or release.
Sentimate offers customer sentiment on all products within its database, so if you need to find out what is and isn’t being received well, you can simply sign up and access our huge database of product insights.
How to implement your changes
When it comes to making product improvements, you can’t simply put them in and call it a day. If you don’t advertise your new products or features then consumers won’t be aware of them, and if consumers aren’t aware of them they won’t buy them. Marketing is key here, and you need to keep on your toes and keep your marketing department informed of the changes you’re implementing and what you intend to improve on in the future.
Key to this, especially if you’re looking at a long process that might take several revisions, is a vision of what you want to produce in the end and how it will be seen by your customer base. If your vision is aligned with that of customer desires, you’ll be able to use marketing to drum up a buzz and get people excited about it. A consumer base who want to buy your products before they’ve even hit the shelves is a valuable asset indeed.
What examples of product improvements can we see today?
There are all sorts of product modifications going on on a daily basis, some successful and some not. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more successful examples that you might be able to learn from.
- Koumeican Flat Extension Cords
Extension cords are a familiar sight to anyone who’s ever worked around any electronics. They do, unfortunately come with a bit of a drawback. Most extension cords simply use regular circular wires, which can lead to you tripping over them and issues pushing anything on wheels past without ripping the cord from its socket.
Koumeican came up with a brilliant solution to this – a cord that can even go underneath the carpet if necessary, and is flat so as to not be a trip hazard if simply placed on the floor. They looked at an issue that customers were having and solved it in a simple manner, a definite upgrade.
- The iPhone
This one is a bit old, but you can’t deny it was innovative. While touchscreen phones, portable music players and devices with mobile internet access had existed before, the original 2007 iPhone was the first to place them all within one device, saving space in consumers pockets and simplifying their device needs.
What the iPhone did was completely transform the way phone technology was used, as well as expanding Apple’s market reach beyond computers and portable music players to reach a whole new range of consumers. Everywhere you look today you’ll see smartphones and similar devices with multifunctional capacities like tablets and smart watches, all offshoots of the original iPhone’s vision.
Using Sentimate to improve your product
Sentimate offers a wide range of features that can be used to gleam insight into your products. There’s a lot of information you can gather from customer feedback, though it usually comes at great effort. Fortunately, we’ve done it all for you and can give you all the insight you need at the touch of a button.
- SWOT Analysis
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, together called SWOT, are some of the most valuable pieces of information. Sentimate’s analysis is derived from consumer sentiment in order to divide your product’s aspects into one of the four categories.
Not every facet of your product needs changing, in fact it’s best to leave the Strengths of your product alone. Opportunities indicate you’re on the right track, whereas Threats mean that you’re barking up the wrong tree when it comes to what your customer base wants. As for Weaknesses, nobody likes those but they do exist and you need to take those into account when deciding how to alter your product next.
- Competitive Landscape
With just one click you can compare your products with those of your rivals and see where you lie in the realm of both customer sentiment and review volume.
You’ll be surprised at the amount of information you can extract from these two figures alone, with high-sentiment low-review count stats being an indicator that your product needs more promotion, whereas the inverse tells you that you need to upgrade the product itself a bit. There’s only one idea place to be on this chart and that’s slap bang in the top right corner, and by analyzing where you stand you can see what you might do to reach that goal.
- Comparison Tool
A side-by-side comparison of two products is the best way to assess where you stand in relation to the market leaders (or your closest rival), and Sentimate’s Comparison Tool does just that.
The data we’ve gathered allows you to view different products and see where they stand, but more importantly why they stand there. When combined with the aforementioned Competitive Landscape tool you’ve got an incredible amount of detail into your products’ standing and how you might improve it.
From the advantages and disadvantages that consumers see in each product to key metric comparisons that tell you how customers feel, you’ll be sure to know more than you set out to by the time you’re done.
- Hot Or Not
Trends can come and go in the blink of an eye, especially in some of the more volatile industries such as fashion or beauty. By using our Hot Or Not tool you can track customer sentiment at the present moment, see what’s rising in popularity within each category and see what’s dropping out of favor.
By keeping track of rising stars and falling rocks, you’ll be able to tweak your products according to shifting consumer opinions in real-time, even make predictions based on the projected landscape to bring out the next hit product yourself.