While many associations pivoted during the pandemic to quickly create products that brought in new revenue, a focus on long-term product development is also important. Two experts discuss innovation and long-term goals when creating new products.
In the past year, associations had to move quickly to keep running. Many responded by creating new products that generated some revenue in a time of crisis. And while streamlined product development is great, living in crisis mode isn’t the best long-term strategy for product development, say experts.
Jennifer Blenkle, director of new product development and strategic initiatives at the American Physiological Society (APS), said that while moving quick can be good at times, it’s also important to plan with long-range goals in mind.
“I’ve worked in several organizations where somebody had a great idea in the shower that morning, and we were working on it by that afternoon,” Blenkle said. “Bringing some intentionality and some structure to how we think about investing our resources and designing new products is something that I think would be beneficial for associations.”
Blenkle’s position was created last year, with the idea to work on products that will roll out over multiple years and generate sustained, six-figure annual income for APS.
“Our goal in the new product development process is to create products that will live on outside of this specific timeline,” Blenkle said. “We are not looking at one-off products. We are looking at investments the organization is making and products that will generate revenue consistently over a three-to-five-year time period.”
Craig Dykstra, senior marketing consultant at McKinley Advisors, said the process for creating new products should be a thoughtful, well-tested one that captures innovation in the field. And don’t be scared off by the term “innovation,” which he says can sound hard but is essential.
“Innovation is this cool and sexy word that we throw around a lot; it’s conflated with creativity and cool ideas,” Dykstra said. “I’d like to demystify innovation. Innovation is very practical at its heart. Innovation is at the center point of three different elements—viability, desirability, and feasibility. It hits that sweet spot, and whatever solution falls within all three of those, then it’s going to be a pretty viable, strong, compelling product or service for any organization.”
While someone might have a great idea in the shower, before deciding to launch it, Blenkle and Dykstra recommend following a process to figure out if the idea is actually an innovation that can work as a viable, sustainable product.
“What we really tried to do is not make our process overcomplicated,” Blenkle said. “We looked at: How do we generate ideas? How do we do research on the ideas to see if they’re a viable opportunity for APS? Then, we develop kind of a business model with what might that look like. We ask ourselves how we might realistically create that product and deliver it to our community and what might be the value and the revenue generated.”
For Dykstra, the pandemic has made it necessary to have a pipeline for new products. “I think, by and large, what we’re seeing is, for associations, product development and product management fell as a third, fourth, or fifth priority before the pandemic,” he said. “… What we are seeing right now is organizations are prioritizing those efforts.”
Blenkle adds that what associations were able to do quickly in 2020 was amazing, but that the year isn’t necessarily the future model. “What got us through 2020 is probably not going to carry us forward out of 2021,” she said. “We can’t depend on the future looking like the past, which is what a lot of associations do. I’m glad to see that we’re talking about what we do differently in 2021 and beyond. If we’re investing the resources, how we do that is going to be the key. We have to keep that conversation open.”
This is the first piece of a three-part series about product development. In part two, Blenkle and Dykstra will share strategies for developing products that are right for your members.