New products enter the marketplace all the time. Some are met with excitement and others are fraught with low demand and lack of interest. Before letting the thrill of a good idea keep you from thinking practically, it’s important to go digging for information in order to see if your product will be a hit, or if it will be a miss.

So, how can you take your invention, and prove it’s worthwhile in today’s marketplace?

With research, you can find out more about the industry, demand, and competition, as well as what consumers think about your product and if it’s feasible to produce and sell it for a profit.

Here are some simple steps to lead you from the idea stage of an invention, to the actual prototype of your product. From there, you can then decide if it’s ready to move to the next phase of development, manufacturing, and eventually, distribution.

Why is Market Research Important?

Market research is the most important part of the invention process because it gives you a realistic evaluation of your product before investing time and money into development. Research can also let you refine your ideas to better meet the needs of your consumer.

Step One: Research Your Market

You think you have a great idea, now it’s time to see if everyone else thinks so too.

Your first step is to conduct primary research into the marketplace by analyzing current trends, competitors, and the potential sales value of your idea.

You can conduct individual research by visiting libraries, searching online, and reading case studies.

Learn as much as you can about the industry, product, and audience you are pursuing. For instance, if you have an idea for a gaming app, you will want to conduct extensive research into not only the technical side of app development, but also the intricacies of gaming, such as strategy, motivation, and reward, as well as the history of other successful gaming apps.

This product research phase not only helps you understand the wants of your customer, but it also lets you identify potential problems with your idea. Looking into other companies can also give you an overview of how they got to where they are now, including the challenges they had to overcome along the way.

Let’s say that you would like to sell an all-in-one camping/barbeque tool. In this case, you will want to study outdoor cooking culture, other profitable barbeque products, and how they earned their household names. Studying your industry tells you why people would or wouldn’t buy your product, as well as what you would need to do to compete with other top dogs in the business.

Step Two: Collect Data

Use your initial research findings to develop questions for your target customer. Some basic questions might include:

  • Would you buy this product?
  • What do you consider when shopping for this product?
  • Do you currently like/dislike similar products that are available to you? Why/why not?
  • How could this product be better?
  • How much would you pay for this product?

Round up as many people as you can so you can collect a large sample size of information. The more people you ask, the more data you will have to improve and propel your idea into motion.

Here are some ways to connect with potential consumers:

  • Set up interviews
  • Develop a questionnaire or survey
  • Plan a focus group
  • Host or attend a networking event
  • Join forums

Avoid interviewing family and friends for risk of a limited viewpoint. At this stage, you are collecting unbiased information to use towards building your product. As with any type of research, evaluate the validity of someone’s statement and use it to inform your plans. Choose your participants wisely, don’t ask leading questions, and try to use majority thinking as a basis for the next step.

Step Three: Build a Concept

After your initial research into the market for your invention, including the motivations behind your target consumer, it’s time to craft your concept.

Analyze your data. What did you find out? How receptive were people to your idea? Did they offer any insight you can use to improve your product? What are their intrinsic motivations? Did you collect enough helpful information to move forward?

Your product research and findings are invaluable. You might discover a flaw in your product that you never even thought about, or a demographic who could really benefit from your product’s use.

The idea here is to take what you have learned and use it for planning your next step, which is drawing up specs and creating a prototype.

Step Four: Develop a Prototype

A prototype is a preliminary model of your product. The point of a prototype is to get it into the hands of the consumer and have them use and feel it, so you can determine whether your product is well liked, or if it needs adjustment.

Creating a version of the product will also reveal flaws in your design. Maybe the materials you’re using don’t actually function well together, or are not durable enough for its purpose. A prototype can also give you the approximate production cost for one unit.

Before executing the design, draw up detailed product specs, and include the materials, measurements, and features of your product.

For relatively basic products, you might feel comfortable creating the prototype yourself. Other complicated products could require a contractor to carry out the plan and build the model. That way, he or she can test it for quality and functionality, and you are able to leave it to a professional to make the product. However, there will be a cost for materials and labor, which is something you should budget for before hiring anyone.

Also keep in mind that you might not get the model right on the first try. There can be several challenges with your design, and sometimes things don’t always work as expected. For that reason, you may need to keep honing it until it is workable, and ready for consumer testing.

Step Five: Test Out a Pilot Version

Some inventors launch what is known as a pilot version of their product, where they release the prototype to a select amount of customers in order to see how it functions and refine the design further before manufacturing any more products. This can be a good way to test out your product and monitor how consumers react to it.

Alternative Routes

There are alternatives to going straight from a concept to a prototype. Some entrepreneurs find that simply showing specs to their target market gives them more insightful feedback before purchasing materials to create a physical prototype.

If cash is tight until you can prove that your product is marketable, then a model version (one that simply demonstrates the purpose of the item, rather than one that is completely functional) can help save on costs and also be used as a pilot to see what else needs to be improved before moving into a full scale prototype.

Rewards Outweigh Risks

Inventors stress the importance of market research prior to launching a product because it reveals if their idea is a lemon or if it is a home run, preventing them from depleting further resources, or alternatively, boosting their idea into reality.

While there may be some risk during research phases, including the cost of prototypes, and the time spent collecting data or perfecting the design, these first stages are far less risky than not doing proper due diligence. Take the time to evaluate the market and competitors, prove your concept’s viability, and above all, test your product on customers to see if there is a need for your creation, or if there is a way you can tailor your design to create greater consumer demand.

How did product research change your invention? Tell us in the comments!

Posted by Kristy DeSmit

Kristy is a blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.