The role of marketing in prototyping and other technical aspects of new product development is often very small. There are many reasons underpinning this, but the biggest reason is that marketing students aren’t taught technical skills. I am to fix that and I started with my class at JMU in New Product Development and Management.
Why limit the role of marketing in prototyping?
Prototyping has been the purview of folks trained in software development, engineering, or graphic design (in fact we teach prototyping in both areas). The assumption is that students in these functional areas have the skills necessary to build prototypes. But, changes in the nature and technology of prototyping mean that marketing and prototyping fit together. Marketing has a significant advantage when it comes to prototyping, as well, since marketers are also trained to discover unmet needs among consumers and to test concepts. Marketers are in the perfect position to translate consumer needs into viable products so why not have them involved in prototyping.
Rapid prototyping has come a long way in the digital age. In the past, engineers created a full-scale physical model of the new product, which was a long, expensive process. Today, those same models are created through CAD (computer-aided design) and 3-D printing at a significantly lower cost and shorter time frame.
In today’s market spaces, prototyping frequently involves wireframing to build a website or an app.
New tools allow marketers to take a more active role in prototyping; to be on the front lines in translating customer needs into finished products and make concept testing more effective. This is especially true in industries moving toward a two-phase development process where the first part of the process is all-digital, allowing more breadth of concept testing before the high cost of building a physical product.
New tools reduce the learning curve for prototyping
In my class, marketing students used POP (Prototyping on Paper) to create clickable models of their presumptive app.
Marketing in prototyping: Step 1
The first step is probably the hardest (and the thing marketers do better than almost anyone else in the organization): to come up with an app that satisfies a real customer need; one that is radically new compared to existing products, not something that just adds a new twist to an already successful app.
Next, teams must brainstorm the user interface, being sure to consider all the ways consumers might use your app, website, or product. Things to consider include for a website or app (obviously, given the broad dimensions of new physical products, its impossible to create a list like this):
- should users be able to enter at a single point or should you set up multiple entry points
- will you require a login? Companies tend to default to yes, but having to provide personal information might discourage users from going any further down the sales funnel. For instance, someone interested in seeing what meal plan pricing and menus look like, might not want to provide an email or other information until they’re closer to making a decision to purchase your meal app. A company should carefully consider consumer attitudes before deciding to require a login.
- Flow — how might consumers want to navigate through the website? Is the navigation intuitive? Companies should provide navigation tools to allow users to easily find the information they want with as few clicks as possible.
- What does conversion look like and how do you accomplish conversion in a streamlined fashion? As an example, Amazon significantly increased their close rate (and lowered shopping cart abandonment), when they went to their one-click buying option.
Once you have your wireframes, now you can start testing the concept with internal or external users. As you can see, in much of what we’ve done so far, there’s a big role for marketing in prototyping and none of it is particularly technical.
Step 3 can be much more technical, but with some of the rapid prototyping tools out there, like POP, marketers don’t need any special skills.
The development team now takes the wireframes and draws out what the actual screens should look like. In the early stages, I recommend just drawing them out freehand, but, as testing gets the team closer to the final layout, the team should use templates to create more professional-looking screens.
Different tools allow prototyping in their own way, but, with POP, it’s as easy as taking a picture of your screens (see image on the right). Once you have all the screens captured, upload them to the POP app on your mobile.
Now, the trick is to make your presumptive hyperlinks live. That’s easily done within the POP app by drawing a box around each active link and selecting a destination location on another screen image.
You can test your new app by using the PLAY option in POP to make sure all your hyperlinks go to the correct screen location.
Even better, without writing a single line of code, you can hand your new app to users who can test it out and try to break it. Instead of expensive fixes that would be required if you’d already programmed the app, it’s as simple as re-drawing your images, taking new pictures, and defining your hyperlinks again. Or, if you’ve made a mistake in determining where a hyperlink should go, it’s simple to fix it by changing the linkage in POP.
Now, you hand your finished prototype to your designer and your development team. No more misunderstandings about how the app or website should be constructed. No expensive fixes when the finished product doesn’t meet users’ needs.
Easy, fast, cheap. What could be better?
Final thoughts of marketing in prototyping
So, using a system like POP, anyone can create workable prototypes of apps and websites. And, there are some really good arguments for putting prototyping in the hands of marketers who are trained to interface with customers and understand their needs.
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