5 Principles for Creating Powerful Product Demonstrations

July 22, 2016 Michael Mason

Communicating product benefits is crucial to establishing your product's competitive market position and breaking through the onslaught of commercial messages consumers receive every day. Claims clarify product benefits. Demonstrating claims brings “theater” to the messaging that helps customers and consumers visualize how your innovation addresses their needs. But where do you start? Do you establish a claim first, and then try to demonstrate it? Or, does the process of using your product reveal the most compelling claim? Which comes first ... the claim or the demo?

I spent 27 years developing and launching new products as a member of the Procter & Gamble Research and Product Development organization. Creating and defending new claims and demos was a big part of my responsibility. In addition, for the past seven years I have helped innovation organizations across a broad range of industries identify new opportunities to bring their products to life using competitive claims and visual demos. My experience has shown that the answer to the “which comes first” question is, of course, “It depends.”

 I have found that adhering to the following 5 principles during the innovation process will reveal compelling claims and demos that can accelerate new product adoption and reinvigorate existing product sales:

1. Category, Consumer, Competition: Know Them!

2. "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."

3. Go Play!

4. Document. Document Document... And Share Across Functions.

5. Once You Make it, Break it!

1. Category, Consumer, Competition: Know Them!

Your market is constantly changing. Rust and innovation never sleep! Continually assess the key products and messages being introduced in your category. Regularly interface with your consumer. Update your understanding of her needs. There is no perfect solution to a consumer's need, and her assessment of how well current products address her need is always evolving.

Monitor your competitors’ messaging and use their products. Rest assured, your competition is doing that with your products. They constantly watch and look for ways to better position themselves against you and the rest of the category. Regular infusions of new messages, new claims or new ways to envision your product are important to maintaining your product's position and share of market.

2. "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."

This seminal quote by tennis great Arthur Ashe applies to product innovation as well as athletics. Know the contribution each element of your product design/formulation brings to its performance. There may be new opportunities beyond the primary benefit staring you in the face.

For example, consider the introduction of synthetic detergents and surfactants that replaced natural soaps. Existing soaps left a thin film on surfaces. Because the film was not visible and the area was smooth to the touch, consumers believed the surface was clean. Synthetics came along and removed even those virtually invisible deposits. Now surfaces, especially hard surfaces, had a new coefficient of friction; they were no longer smooth to the touch. In fact, they even squeaked when touched. "Squeaky clean" become the new standard of excellence, and an auditory demo was created by which consumers could confirm whether dishes, counter tops and even their own skin were "clean." What by-products of using your product are lying there waiting to be communicated by sensory demos?

3. Go Play!

In the lab that is. I will admit that I have left work with more than my fair share of grape jelly, red wine, Crayola marker, motor oil, brownie mix, face cosmetics and red Kool-Aid on my clothes and lab coat as a result of attempting to identify stains on vinyl tiles, carpets, car seats, counter tops, clothing, and human skin that could be removed by various products. It’s critical to step back from the primary benefit of your product and look at all of the various applications it could encounter. If your product works well in one specific area, you can expect consumers will experiment. You should too!

Identify the non-obvious solutions that your product offers. This often sparks new claims while simultaneously identifying the limits of your product's performance before your competition does. Even absurd applications of your product, like putting an entire birthday cake in your dishwasher to demonstrate how well it cleans, serve as "torture test" demos from which your customer and consumer will infer that more mundane cleaning tasks will be "a piece of cake" (pun intended).

4. Document, Document, Document ... and Share Across Functions.

During the process of mining consumer insights or conducting lab evaluations of potential demos, vigorously document your experiments and insights through video and lab book entries. Not only are these your best defense if and when a competitive legal challenge occurs, they are also the best means to share your ideas with your cross-functional business and operational partners. They will look at these insights with fresh eyes and likely stir up new ideas that build upon your work.

These differing perspectives help broaden initial claims into families of claims, which in turn give you an on-going supply of new messages to share in the market at regular intervals and via different media to keep the storyline fresh. Lab video can be developed into professional on-air advertising demos. Video is also great for internal management reviews to secure funding or other resources required for launch.

Importantly, both written and visual documentation can be shared with Legal and Regulatory to confirm that the manner in which claims are stated and the visuals being used convey exactly what you intend and minimize the risk of competitive challenge.

5. Once You Make It, Break It!

Last, but certainly not least, take your perfected demo, give it to someone else, and ask them to perform it as shown in the video or written instructions. Watch to determine whether user variation suddenly causes your beautiful demo to fail, or your claim to be unsupportable. Remember, you understand the claim, you created the demo, and you perfected it. A novice will introduce variation that may or may not uncover a fundamental weakness in the presentation.

You don’t want this to happen in the hands of the (hopefully) millions of untrained consumers who try your product, or even worse, when your Sales Rep is presenting your brand new demo to the buyer of a major retail outlet. Break it now! Understand what went wrong and why. Make your claim and demo as robust as possible.

So, which comes first ... the claim or the demo? It depends. In the end, what is most important is constantly challenging yourself to look beyond the initial idea or concept so you continually delight your consumers and stay ahead of the competition. Having a deep understanding of your category, consumer and competition is the basis from which to create a variety of claims and their visualizations (demos) that will “wow!” your customers and consumers.

Apply these principles to your next claims and demos adventure, and have fun in the process!

Need help getting started or broadening your current approaches? Watch my webinar, "A Picture is Worth a 1,000 words" to learn more tips on how to develop powerful product demonstrations to help make brands grow.

About Michael Mason: Mike has over 34 years of experience in New Product Development, R&D, and Products Research, including 27 years with Procter & Gamble. He holds numerous patents and has helped identify new products, claims, and demos for categories as diverse as dishwashing detergents, baby care, facial and bathroom tissues, incontinence products, surgical gowns and drapes, and pharmaceuticals. A YourEncore expert since 2009, Mike helps clients bring their products to life through disciplined and highly creative claim and visual demonstration development and execution.

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