Carol McGury, Executive Vice President of Event and Education Services at the association management firm SmithBucklin, has spent years developing education programs and products aimed at members of professional societies. From this perspective, Carol has an acronym to describe the process for successful development of new products, LUCK. In her keynote address delivered at the most recent Doody’s Digital Workshop, Carol detailed the four essential components to developing new products that result in engagement:

  • Listen
  • Understand
  • Create, and
  • Know

All new products, McGury explained, have their origins in listening to what the customer wants. This essential ingredient represents something of a new paradigm.  Prior to the “information revolution,” product development often resulted from staff using their technical know-how to turn topical suggestions and ideas from thought leaders into education products the society offered. This build-it-and-they-will-come model has not fared well in the Internet age. With so much information freely available, the winning formula for developing new products must start with listening to what consumers need, that is, what they are willing to pay for by investing their time, money or both. And there are four principal ways to listen to your customers and prospects:

  • Anecdotal conversations,
  • Surveys,
  • Focus groups, and
  • Ethnographic studies.

These four techniques are presented from easiest to most difficult to execute and from least expensive to most expensive. To develop game-changing products, more than likely all four modes of listening need to be activated.
Listening only becomes meaningful once you interpret the feedback and input you’ve been given and understand the needs and expectations of the consumers whose information interests you are driven to satisfy. So how do you go about this interpretation? Is it a one-person exercise, the responsibility of a new product development team, or a discipline undertaken by a cross-pollinated group of staff, volunteer leaders and a handful of past and prospective customers? Again, these options are presented in order of difficulty and investment. The more groundbreaking the new product, the greater investment you need to make in really understanding customer needs and expectations.

Once you’ve listened and understood, creating is the third component of McGury’s LUCK model for successful new product development. And, as McGury pointed out, creating involves risk-taking. If your society intends to remain central to the continued professional development of the members of the industry or discipline it serves, then it must be risk-tolerant rather than risk-averse. The relative degree of risk can be measured by the data that has been gathered as part of the listening and understanding phases, as well as by the penetrating and objective analysis of competitive offerings. Further, part of the creation process must include setting measurable goals to assess the relative success of the new product.

Once the society’s technical expertise has been applied to create the new product, almost immediately you’ll begin to know the level of acceptance and uptake the new product is achieving. Having established key performance indicators (KPIs) as part of the new product development creation and approval process, staff members have to be assigned the task of monitoring how the new product is doing and performing against its KPIs. If the new product is not achieving the goals that had been established for it, can customer feedback help lead to tweaks that will improve its performance? And if it is exceeding the targeted objectives, is it appropriate to re-set targets and aim even higher?

Part of the KPI’s must be a timeline all agree on by which it can be determined if the product is a success or not. And, if successful, when does the product development team start the LUCK process all over again to determine the next iteration of the product when the current one reaches the end of its “shelf life.” If at the end of the timeline for monitoring its uptake the new product has fallen short of the established goals, should the product development team be asked to analyze the LUCK process as applied to this particular project to see if any adjustments are needed?

LUCK in the hands of a skilled product developer like McGury is not a one-time event or a haphazard and unanticipated external occurrence. Rather, when it comes to successful new product development, LUCK is the driving discipline of the product development process.