Editor's note: Richie Heron is vice president, product methodology, at research firm Toluna.

In the past, new product development (NPD) was a marathon. A brand marketing team would test concepts, packaging and shelf placement and, finally introduce a new product to the market. Today, NPD is like a sprint relay – moving from team to team to execute in record time. The crowded global marketplace demands that decisions about concept, packaging and placement be made in record time. And, with unexpected competitors disrupting one industry after another, it’s critical that teams have data behind every decision. That alone gives brands the power they need to win the race.

Think about this scenario: Your brand is competing in a hyper-accelerated market, where a rash of new products are introduced every week and you need to ensure that your entry rises above the throng. You need to be sure that new and existing customers: 

  • like the concept,
  • understand the product from the packaging and
  • will see it on the shelf.

And here’s the tricky part: In order to keep up with the pack of competitors and stay in the race, you need to do all this in just hours. Agility is key.

How is that possible?

Results that really matter

While speed is critical in today’s fast-moving development environment, it’s useless unless results are high-quality and actionable. Expertise should be built into automated solutions, so projects can be dramatically streamlined and optimized at the same time. Results should be management-ready, and key measures actionable, so teams across the organization can access them and move the development process forward.

But all the time and resources poured into package design and testing go down the drain if consumers can’t find your product on the shelf. In fact, despite the astronomical growth of online shopping, most purchases are still made in-store. So the right shelf placement is a critical element in brand success. 

In fact, research shows that, in a retail environment, assessment of a brand category (in other words, a brand’s placement on the shelf) is actually the FIRST thing a consumer notices about a product. It’s not until step two – after the shopper has actually found the product on the shelf – that they react to packaging. That’s where automated shelf-testing tools come in, recreating and assessing the retail environment in a fraction of the time it took to deploy outmoded systems. Insights professionals can understand shelf-stand out and know that consumers can find their product on-shelf.

Inject the voice of your customer in every decisions (even the immediate ones)

Consumer insights support decision-making from the earliest stage of ideation, through launch and refinement. Understanding what consumers think, how they feel and what their reactions are to your product is critical. What’s more, automated consumer insights solutions are a must given that each stage of the product life cycle has been shortened and transformed. When you consider that an average concept test once took more than 30 days to complete and now product decisions are often being made in mere days, automated, outcome-oriented consumer insights solutions are crucial and fit into available windows of time. 

Winning the race

We continue to see the NPD cycle change. Companies are ideating and bringing more products to market in less time, and that trend will accelerate in the coming years. Successful brands win the NPD race by ensuring instant access to the right data behind every new product decision. That means turning to an automated solution with consumer insights expertise layered in from the start. Don’t guess what consumers think, know what they need and win because you’ve gotten there first.