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Where to get ideas for new products and services

I love the idea..
Creative Commons License photo credit: apesara

One of the questions I hear with regularity is “Where do I get ideas for new products and services?” Of course, the most obvious place would be “Your customers”.

It isn’t that easy though. If every business waited for their customers to ask for that next amazing new product, a lot of great new products and services wouldn’t come to market nearly as soon. Some might not ever come to market.

Did one of Apple’s customers ask them for the iPod? Not likely. 

What’s the biggest problem your customers have that you aren’t doing anything to solve?

Sometimes you need to be ahead of your customers’ thought process.

If you’ve positioned your business well, you are the authority in your market (and if you aren’t, you should be working on that).

You are the one that everyone looks to for the newest information in your market. You are the one that everyone looks to for the newest products that help them with problems they didn’t realize they even had.

But how do you do that?

Staying on top of your market means reading about trends and new discoveries in your industry’s publications. It doesn’t matter if that means a trade paper, a blog, a podcast, a video or a monthly conference call, you simply have to not only keep up but stay ahead of the “also rans”.

What more business owners should do is spend time reading about trends and new discoveries in complementary business niches. The really aggressive folks should be looking at these things in niches that appear to have nothing to do with their business.

For example, if you sell bicycles in a specialty retail shop, what would be the point of reading about the newest strategies used by those who retail kayaks or rent high-end digital SLRs, telescopes or ice climbing gear?

Simple â?? the customers who spend money in those markets are also inclined to spend money in your specialty bike shop.

Looking at ideas that worked in non-complementary markets has value as well. What can you take from successes in a completely unrelated niche, bring to your business, massage a little and make your own?

Plenty, if you put a little thought into it.

How many businesses have drive-up windows these days?

Do you think coffee shops, libraries or dry cleaners were the first? Nope. Oddly enough, the first drive up window appears to have been at a bank in 1928.

20 years later in 1948, In-and-Out Burger claims they opened the first drive-up window at a restaurant. Why it took the restaurant business 20 years to pick up on that is anyone’s guess.

Sometimes, you might be replacing a product line instead of simply adding a new one to widen your reach. In extreme cases, it might be about survivability.

For example, if you’re one of the many businesses that is threatened by the CPSIA, you’re looking at eliminating product lines for kids under 12. Presumably, you have items for kids over 12, but that isn’t always the case.

What else can you use to generate ideas for new products and services? We’ll talk about other ways shortly.

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