By Bill Pollock, Strategies for Growth
After a while, even the most innovative product and service lines may begin to lose some of their luster and appeal, ultimately being perceived by the marketplace more as commodity-like offerings, rather than as a unique or differentiated portfolio. Classic examples range anywhere from photographic equipment, to computers, to consulting services. What was initially offered to the market as an innovative product or service, often without any direct competition, can soon become just another product or service commodity among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.
Regardless of your organization’s market share or positioning in its relevant marketplace, it is important to gauge exactly where your product and services portfolios stand at any given point in time with respect to the perceptions – and expectations – of your targeted market base. In most cases, it is the new, innovative, upstart companies that are typically conducting the bulk of the market research and competitive intelligence before launching their new products and services – and not necessarily the companies that are still selling their older, more mature, commodity-like offerings.
However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise the majority of your company's product or services portfolio. Even better, these lines tend to already be "tried and true" with respect to market acceptance and may only need a gentle marketing or promotional "push" every once in a while to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a "mid-course correction" every now and then to ensure that the Space Shuttle gets to the proper destination.
There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much "kick" its product or services offerings still have in them – or, conversely, whether it is time to "kick" them out of the company portfolio altogether, and replace them with newer, more innovative and competitive products. The path we recommend to evaluate the overall health of your present portfolio of products and services is to conduct a strategic business assessment that focuses on:
- An assessment of your customers' – and the market's – perceptions, needs, requirements, perceptions, preferences, and expectations with respect to your existing portfolio of products and services;
- The specific product/service features and characteristics (e.g., attributes, benefits, value, cost, service requirements, etc.) that currently define your business lines, and what it will likely take to “ramp them up” to the new and/or emerging market requirements (i.e., the Three R’s: Refine, Re-Design and/or Repackage);
- Customer/market perceptions and opinions regarding the current quality and performance of the products and services they purchase from both your organization and its competitors; and
- A set of suggested, or recommended, improvements to your existing portfolio to better position it against the competition and maximize both sales potential and ongoing customer satisfaction.
The assessment and evaluation of the findings from such a study would be extremely useful in terms of providing company management with the strategic, marketing, and promotional tools it needs to:
- Modify and enhance existing product/service lines to address the highest levels of customer and market demand;
- Develop new products and/or services to reflect the most important needs and requirements of both the existing and prospective customer bases;
- Identify and cultivate the most attractive target markets based on identified patterns of customer decision making and purchase behavior, and product preferences and perceptions; and
- Strengthen the company's overall product/service awareness and image, advertising and promotion, and sales activities through the execution of the recommended refinements, enhancements, and/or modifications based on the study findings.
More specifically, the primary benefits of conducting this type of assessment would essentially be two-fold, as follows:
- To identify the basic customer/market needs, requirements, preferences, and perceptions that can be used to assess and "fine-tune" the overall strategic market position of the organization's existing business lines, and
- To ensure that the company is effectively marketing the right products and services, to the right market segments, by communicating the right marketing and promotional messages.
While your present business lines are probably the key factors that helped your company grow to its current size and market position, they may have become "dusty" over the years, and now may need either a good "dusting off" or, possibly, retirement. Putting a "cash cow" off to pasture before it is time can cost your company a great deal of money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on as an active component of your business portfolio may cost you even more in the long run, in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as either being "dusty" itself, or no longer offering anything but commodity-like products and services.
Assessing where your product and service portfolios currently stand in terms of market perceptions, image and their ability to meet your customers' changing and growing needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” is actually on your existing portfolio of offerings - as well as exactly what you will need to do to “shake it off” and compete more effectively.