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Taking your Ideas Beyond

Making your product strategy a success

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Picture this: you are preparing your new product strategy and wondering if you are considering all the possible markets, ensuring that you have the right product launch content, that you are addressing the right customer audience. Is the inclusion of academia a possible solution and an arm to your strategy?
Many times, if I mention the word academia, the first reaction I get is: “more free products out of the door without any revenue in sight”. That’s maybe a little far fetched but in many cases, reality due to a lack of focus strategy.
Being Bold: Youth Creativity
A year ago, I wrote an article about the fact that many see the work with academia as a cost rather than as an investment. The examples of companies like Apple, Tesla and some more clearly demonstrate that investment into the younger generations is a long term strategy that pays many folds, every time.

In the last year of my consulting practice, I have continued to see that the creativity displayed by young minds and the strength of character developed in the new generations bring multiple positive facets to the companies that choose to engage this way.

Bringing the product strategy and academia together
When you design your product, more so if this is a technology enabler like software or IoT hardware, it is critical that you think about the generation of customers that you are to convince about using it. There are two main times of audiences:
  1. The end user which will find more possible use to your product than you can have thought about (example: what you IoT-controlled water dispenser can do when given in the hands of a maker)
  2. The young design, mechanical and engineering students, makers and innovators that will include your next communication stack software for sensor fusion technology into their next robotics challenge or design.

In both cases, your audience will find opportunities to apply your product in ways that you might not have thought about and, possibly, open a new market that was not on your target list at the time of your product development.
What if I do not include academia in my product strategy?
I believe that asking what would happen if you would NOT do something is more powerful that asking the question about what if you would do it. As we talk about “not doing” something, you will focus on what you are missing, thus easier to find the compelling reasons to make it happen.

So let take a shot at it: what would happen if you would not include academia in your considerations for product strategy:
Missing on the next customer wave
One of the main errors in product strategy is to think of a mature market audience, an established customer base, rather to the upcoming one. The success of a market-resilient product is to plan on the long term of its lifecycle, meaning creating a legacy and loyalty that, overtime, will make it a standard. That’s what brands like Starbucks, Apple, MathWorks’ Matlab/Simulink are doing by creating a habit, a platform and a knowledge comfort zone that will bring the customer back, time after time, to your product and its next generations
Missing on the real market opportunity
In many cases, some products have been designed to resolve a problem and, in fact, have found their success into another market area, thus failing dramatically in the original market they were designed for (find some examples like Viagra, Coca-Cola and Play-Doh). In my career, I have seen the same happening in the semiconductor industry when a product was designed to support set-top box development and has, instead, become a standard in portable media and wearable devices.
Unless you put your product-to-be in the hands of highly-creative minds like students and makers, you will not see all it could do and possibly, miss on a market where a competitor or a start-up could quickly get into and beat you to the punch.
Missing on the content impact
Today’s strength of content as part of product launch is a no-brainer. Unless you provide your future customer base with ideas about how to use the product, online-training and social media targeted campaigns, your product launch will be weak and miss the target to position your product into the markets with a WOW-effect. The creation of content is expensive and takes time. The access to academia to create a plethora of blogs, videos, out-of-the-box experience reviews and ideas about how to use your product provides your marketing team with a strong influx of continuous material rather than the in-house product launch material that you can create.

Are you still skeptical?
For many, the investment into targeting the next generation of users, validating the markets to be reached or creating massive content to support a product launch can be seen as a daunting task and a waste of resources. In addition to preparing your product launch you also have to think about the after-launch and product maintenance to extent its market lifecycle (see “Life after launch”). Unless you tap into the vast amount of resources from academia, you will be quickly coming to a hard realisation that you do not have enough manpower to drive all those tasks internally. Furthermore, your competition will do a quick assessment of your weaknesses and will react by using that segment of “outsourcing” to pass you quickly in your market.
So, what are you really waiting for?
To get started, start at the top
Unless your company, from the top to bottom, understands the value of academia collaboration, the battle will be difficult as you might not be able to secure the long-term partnerships required for a successful relationship with schools and educational institutions. Besides, you need a management that will shield the investment done with educational channels from short term shark investors looking for cost cutting strategies at the first sign of market weakness.
All companies successful in working with academia are companies where Cox-level and board of directors have understood the value of the educational channel for the long term success of the company and its products.

Also many companies and for sure, many start-ups, don’t have the time nor the expertise to focus on academia. Short term results pressure makes it difficult to hire a team of project managers and academia networking experts to work on long-term strategy. In addition, the skillset and networking requirements to open the doors of academia are not just as easy to find; companies with such strategy keep jealously their assets and are proud of their programs to create long-term market followers.

Finally, it takes guts and grit to make this strategy a success. Short-term vision is excluded, quick return of investment is not what you are looking for.

A good way to get started is by consulting with specialists that have been in this market for a while. They will help create a sound strategy that, step by step, will position your company as a global leader in your product segment (not market segment as this might change as your product might be adopted by new markets). Once the strategy is validated and accepted at all levels, make it a
company culture for innovation and advertise it as one of its strengths. Don’t be shy to claim your territory as universities are also looking for the partnerships that will bring them the best visibility and long term educational stability.

Driving product strategy with inclusion of academia is no utopia. Many well known companies like GM, Apple, Google, MathWorks and more have included professors and equational channels as part of their outmost priority for a successful product development, launch and evolution. You do not have to be a multinational company to do the same. Choose wisely and plan early as for a successful product strategy, academia must be part of the recipe.

About the writer: Flavio Stiffan is a business development specialist with focus on creating sound innovation and academia strategies. He has implemented and managed alliance networks and is at the core of academia relationship management with a network of over 130 universities and 350 technology companies and distributors. For more about Flavio, visit or check out his profile on LinkedIn.

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