The contributions of both the research and development function and the marketing function are necessary for the successful development and launch of a new product in the marketplace. Not only does each function offer different insights, but each has different expertise, all important for a product's success. However, the roles of the two functions are often unclear or overlap, so it is not uncommon to see the two functions competing rather than collaborating. To optimize new product development, the two departments need to not only contribute, but to influence each other in order to develop a synergy that will produce the best possible product from their efforts. In this type of relationship, the information and insights offered by one group result in changes in behavior, attitudes, or actions of the other as appropriate.
Keywords: Front End Analysis; Innovation; Integrated Marketing Communications; Management; Market Share; Marketing; New Product Development; Research and Development (R&D); Strategic Planning; Survey Research
According to the old adage, the only thing that needs to be done in order for the world to beat a path to your door is to build a better mousetrap. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Selling better mousetraps or any mousetrap or anything at all requires marketing efforts. In the case of the mousetrap, this may only be word-of-mouth marketing. Today, selling typically requires a wide range of tools from the integrated marketing communications toolkit: advertising, direct response, sales promotions, and public relations. Otherwise, potential customers will not know about the better mousetrap — or even that they need one — and the path to the seller's door will remain remarkably unbeaten.
Marketing vs. Research
Although the marketing function is often thought of as an add-on or afterthought to the development of the product itself, innovation efforts that integrate marketing early in the process are the most likely to be successful. This does not mean, however, that advertising early and often is the key. For example, in one geographical area, there is competition between two companies offering Internet services via cable. One company has been advertising for almost two years, but has still to lay the cable that would provide cable Internet services to homes in the neighborhood. In the meantime, another company with existing cable has started offering the same service. Thus, synergy between marketing (e.g., selling the service) and research and development (e.g., developing the service) is necessary.
Both theory and research suggest that communication is necessary between the research and development function and the marketing function in order for the launch of a new product to be a success. This makes sense, because each function has a different role in the organization and in the new product development process. Research and development systematically investigates problems with the intention of discovering new knowledge or solutions (research) and then applies that knowledge to creating new or improved products, processes, or services (development) that fit a need in the marketplace.
In the example of the better mousetrap, the marketing department might discover that consumers are less than satisfied with current mousetrap technology and that the development of better mousetrap technology could be profitable. Based on the insights of the marketing department, the research and development department might then investigate what a mousetrap needs to do, what current mousetraps do, and how mousetraps could be improved. Based on this knowledge, the research and development department might then take this knowledge and design a better mousetrap based on the insights from their research efforts. Ideally, the marketing department and the research and development department would continue to communicate during this process in order to develop the best possible mousetrap based not only on an objective yet isolated idea of what the ideal mousetrap might look like, but also based on the expectations of the market for mousetraps, what the market might be willing to pay, and what the market might be willing to accept. The marketing department would also respond to answer these questions and also integrate the insights of the research and development department about the characteristics of the ideal mousetrap in order to better position the mousetrap within the market, change the expectations in the marketplace regarding the characteristics of an ideal mousetrap, and position the mousetrap to gain a larger market share or to create a unique market niche.
Competing Functions: Front-End Analysis
Although it would seem that both the marketing and the research and development functions have clear and essential roles in the new product development process, in practice it is not uncommon to see the two functions competing rather than collaborating. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is overlap between the functions of the two departments. For example, front-end analysis — the process of determining the needs and requirements of the customer and exploring the ways to best meet them — is thought by most engineers to be a research and development function. After all, it is the engineers who understand both the possibilities and limits offered by emerging technologies. Marketing personnel, however, think of front-end analysis as an activity under their purview, since they are the ones who best know the needs and preferences of the customer. Further, many marketing personnel have technical backgrounds that they believe help them understand the technical requirements as well.
The truth lies somewhere in between. While research and development professionals may know technical requirements better than marketing personnel, marketing professionals tend to know the market — and what will or will not sell — better than engineering personnel. In addition, although marketing personnel may have a technical background, this tends to not be as current as the knowledge of the technical professionals in the research department. Alone, each function does not have adequate knowledge to produce the best product from both a technical and marketability standpoint. If the two departments work together as a true team, the new product has a better chance of meeting the needs of the customer and becoming a success in the marketplace. The research literature of the past twenty years supports the conclusion that cross-functional cooperation and communication between marketing and research and development is one of the most important factors in the success of a new product.
Working together as a team means more than both marketing and research and development participating in the new product development process. The two departments need to also influence each other in order to develop a synergy that will produce the best possible product from their efforts. In this type of relationship, the information and insights offered by one group result in changes in behavior, attitudes, or actions of the other as appropriate.
Athuahene-Gima and Evangelista (2000) performed a study of the cross-functional influence in new product development from both the marketing and research and development perspectives. The research took into consideration three perspectives found in the literature regarding the relationship of the marketing and research and development functions during the new product development process:
- Information processing
- Resource dependence
From the information processing perspective, the work of the two teams is participatory, and is designed to process information about the customer, market, and technology, and reduce uncertainty so that a marketable product can be developed. The resource dependent perspective also views information as an important resource, and believes that the two functions are interdependent. The sociopolitical perspective views the two functions as competitors that struggle for power and attempt to meet their individual self-interests. Using the survey research method, the authors collected data from marketing and research and development personnel.
The authors found that marketing and research and development personnel have significantly different perceptions of each other's influence on the new product development process, each believing that its influence is more important to success. However, although marketing tends to see the necessity of research and development efforts for successful new product development, research and development tends not to see the importance of marketing's efforts in the process. This finding appears to be related to the sociopolitical nature of the relationship between the two departments. The...
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