Nov. 3 2020 08:00 AM

Valuable feedback comes from many directions.

Today is Election Day. There will be excitement, disappointment, and maybe even some surprises, too. It’s going to be a long day. Regardless of the outcome, I am proud to be an American and to have exercised the right to vote. Politics are not my forte, so I’m going to steer this discussion in a different, though still voter-centric, direction: product development.

I manage product development for a dairy cooperative. And while I have considerable influence over what does and does not make it to market, I largely look to the opinions of others. The larger the sample size I ask, the less influence my own biases have. Below are just a few of my rules of thumb when testing new product viability. Interestingly enough, many of these rules have a lot in common with how we vote for our leaders, too.

The temperature of the room can depend on who speaks first. If the person with the most influence in the room doesn’t like XYZ, those who thought it was actually the best product may bite their tongue. Self-doubt and fear of conflict are powerful distractions. To combat this, record feedback individually and anonymously.

There is a lot to be said in a name or label. An unfamiliar name could dissuade someone from trying something that they may have otherwise really liked. Instead, find a way to bridge the new and unfamiliar with longtime favorites whenever possible.

To purchase is to commit. Many people wish to try something before they buy it. Sampling makes all the difference when introducing new products to customers. (Unfortunately, this is not currently possible due to COVID-19 precautions).

Location matters. Those that live in the Midwest can have different preferences than those in the Northeast, for example. Cottage cheese in Illinois and cottage cheese in New York rarely match in flavor and texture.

Know the limitations of your audience. Not only should location be considered, but there are many other factors that influence preferences, too. Sour watermelon is a flavor beloved by my children, but it’s likely not a first choice for my dad.

Most importantly, people want to help and to be represented. Asking for feedback not only provides us with guidance, but it empowers them, too. Every opinion matters, no matter how great or small. The majority may define the direction, but the unique can still inspire and have influence. Every vote counts!

Erin Massey

Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."