The company that uses Amazon reviews for new product development

Last week I read a fascinating article on Fast Company about C&A Marketing. The company sells a diverse range of products – from speakers to egg timers – and they’re growing at a fantastic rate, citing figures of 30% per year. But how can they have achieved such impressive growth? The answer lies in their innovative approach to new product development. They’ve done away with using lengthy product testing with consumers and are instead using Amazon reviews to inform the features of their products.

So how does it work?

As Fast Company describes:

The company revolves around a group of relatively autonomous “buyers”… Their job is to scour the web to learn all the features people wish a product had, and hire a manufacturer, often in China, to make the desired version… If they sell well, the product is renewed. Otherwise, it’s junked.”

This paragraph alone captures the key trends that the C&A Marketing is taking advantage of to foster such phenomenal growth.

Crowdsourcing and social data

C&A Marketing’s approach, using reviews from ecommerce sites like Amazon to inform product development, is a combination of standard social media listening, in which you glean insights from the deluge of unprompted user generated comments across the internet, and crowdsourcing, where you engage the help of an online community for the purpose of a specific task. Whilst businesses have been harnessing social media listening for many years, it’s only recently that they’ve recognised the potential of crowdsourcing, with companies such as Coca Cola and Budweiser harnessing the power of the crowd to help with anything from marketing campaigns to new product innovation.

Traditionally, one of the issues with both social media listening and crowdsourcing is knowing just how representative your data is. For example, if one of C&A Marketing’s buyers sees a few reviews on the internet bemoaning the lack of, say, luminous pink shower radios, it might mean that there’s a big enough market for them. Behind every comment there might be hundreds, thousands of souls, silently also wishing for luminous pink shower radios. Or their might be none, and the comments are outliers. But C&A Marketing have found a way to deal with the kind of data social media listening provides and the insights that are possible to be drawn from it. How? By changing the whole product development process that this data informs, and by adopting a lean, agile approach.

Lean and agile product development

Lean methodology is most associated with Eric Ries, who we briefly profiled in November. The essence of his theory is that rather than investing time and money in trying to create the perfect business and perfect product, you create a minimum viable product that you test and then constantly iterate based on customer feedback and key performance indicators. It’s an approach that is especially popular in Silicon Valley, with Dropbox and AirBnB noted (and very successful) adherents.

Whether consciously or not, C&A Marketing applies some of the key principles. The buyers are autonomous and seem to have a good deal of leeway in terms of creating new products and product lines. And rather than refining the product to perfection, they just sell them and learn from the response. As the article puts it, “if they sell well, the product is renewed. Otherwise, it’s junked.” By following these lean principles, C+A Marketing are saving valuable time and money. And more importantly, by learning from what sells best, they’re able to ensure that each product they create is more successful than the last.

By being aware of and tapping into the latest trends, C&A Marketing have developed a new way of generating insight that is less costly and time-consuming than some of the more traditional approaches to the discipline. This has come not just from changing how it is getting research data, but also changing the whole product development process this data is informing.

Resulting in a growth rate of 30%, it seems that harnessing trends like social media listening and crowdsourcing, and following an agile approach to product development, is a powerful combination.