GICHOBI: Marketing glitz can’t cover up for poorly designed products

Kenyan firms excel at fascinating product unveilings. However, imagine a company that launches a product or service to much fanfare, media hype, and celebrity endorsements but later only to discover that no amount of hype and marketing can cover over a lacklustre business model.

From unsellable banking products, unprofitable supermarkets to home high-speed Internet flops, some launches fail.

Firms often launch without putting a few things into perspective by jumping into it without bringing the right content, testing systems, and gauging client reactions leading to a very painful affair. Therefore, such companies lose money, time, and consumer trust.

In the Business Daily series on design thinking, we started by understanding the hallmark concept and how we can utilise it to create products with a delightful user experience. We learned that design thinking is a tool that teaches us to start with the end user in mind. We then looked at empathy and uncovered that as a tool, it is used to understand deep needs of our targeted clients.

Last week, we explored how to experiment using prototypes and how it helps one test and improve on products and services before a launch. This week will look at how to unveil the product using the learning launch to de-risk it from challenges similar to the one experienced by the above companies.

What is the learning launch?

This is an experiment conducted in the marketplace for a short period of time. It bridges prototyping and new-product commercial rollout. Its success is not measured by sales but by how much is learned.

The learning launch tests the attractiveness of the business idea. It leads us to live experiments with actual customers. Unlike prototyping where the participants do not buy the product, the learning launch requires the customers to purchase the product and later analyse feedback from them. It is akin to selling a high fidelity prototype.

A successful learning launch needs to feel real to both the launchers as well as the customers. It leads to accurate observation of customers demonstrating their enthusiasm for the product, often over an extended period of time.

The outcome gives answers to key questions such as: do customers value the product? Do they use it the way they said they would? Are they willing to pay for the value? Would they recommend it to other people? Is the business model viable? Are the clients the right target?

A learning launch is initiated immediately after successful prototyping, the point is to select a group of the lead users in your market niche and try to sell to them.

At this stage, the product is almost complete, and what you try to achieve is to test the remaining assumptions with the real customers in a real marketplace. Such a learning launch will de-risk scaling up a product that are not yet completely refined.

If banks, supermarkets, and telecommunications firms referenced above had used the learning launch tool they would have uncovered crucial lessons without rolling out the products fully in the market place.

They would have discovered that the content had issues and the system was not running efficiently. It would have saved them from the loss of money invested in aertising and marketing in addition to losing trust from their clients.

The implication of the outcome of a learning launch are twofold, either the product needs further refinement or it is a success and should be fully rolled out. If the decision is to move ahead with additional development investments, points gleaned from the learning launch should inform which features to improve, customer segments to focus on, and other necessary additions.

After success in the learning launch, the product is ready to be fully offered in the market, investments can be done in promotion and marketing of the product.

In totality, the stages of design thinking play a vital role in ensuring maximum superior user experience with your products.

Empathy helps us understand deep user desires and needs, prototyping will give more insights on how to package the value we have and the learning launch tests your products in the real market with real customers.

If this is achieved, the company will experience better product traction that improves sales.

Mr Gichobi is strategy analyst with WYLDE International. Email: