Economic recession doesn't have to halt innovative product development

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Joel Delman
Joel Delman
Many business leaders view periods of economic recession as times to simply stay afloat and wait for a recovery. But while tight budgets, cutting employees and spending conservatively have become the norm over the past few years, history has shown us that tough times can actually provide a unique opportunity to find success.

The fact is that turbulent economic times often unveil new needs in the marketplace, allowing company leaders a chance to think creatively on ways to solve new problems. Consumers are often content with the status quo during good times, or are more willing to take some risks when deciding how to spend their money. A recession, however, leaves them searching for products and services which make their lives more efficient, enjoyable or which promise some unique experience that is worth their hard earned dollars.

While many businesses do struggle during turbulent economic times, you might be surprised at how many success stories there are. Many of the products consumers use every day were developed during economic downturns… staples like Miracle Whip, Twinkies and even chocolate chip cookies debuted during the Great Depression as cheap meals were at a premium. Richard Drew introduced the first clear adhesive tape in 1930, as budget conscious consumers found the tape extremely useful to patch up old clothing or to fix small breaks in everyday household items. In the 1970s, General Electric produced the first fluorescent light bulb in the midst of the decade's oil crisis. Though similar to existing bulbs in light output, the design quickly took off because of consumers' new interest in energy conservation.

The common thread among these products is that they provided meaningful solutions to problems - or offered the promise of significant tangible benefits - when time and money were at a premium. It doesn't necessarily matter if you're launching during a recession or a period of economic growth, what matters is that you provide a product which demonstrates you've listened to the market and is responsive to unmet consumer needs and challenges.

If you properly read the market, a recession can actually be a great opportunity to introduce unique products to boost your firm to new heights. Not only are consumers looking for what you've got to offer, you'll be making a product introduction at a time when competition has often decreased.  Taking advantage of your competition's reduced resources and other business challenges, your innovation can actually get more attention in a less crowded market.

Joel Delman is Los Angeles design director for Product Development Technologies, Inc. (PDT).

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