Tips & Tricks: Product Development for Millennials

Hey everyone! So I dunno if you are anything like me but I’ve been seeing something really disheartening in the news lately, specifically the media’s tendency to label Millennials as being the destroyers of the economy. With industry after industry falling apart like wet toilet paper the news has to blame someone and since they can’t blame their bosses, the ones who really did destroy the economy with decadent spending habits, predatory loans and stagnant wages, they have to blame the poor saps who literally can’t afford to spend money on silliness like diamonds and health insurance.

One of those peanuts is for rent, the other goes to the overwhelming student loan debt…

Unfortunately this means that as millennials trying to sell to other millennials you face some unique challenges. More than ever people are being very very careful about what they spend their very limited money on. I know I have talked about product development a little in previous posts but I want to get into it a little more from the perspective of someone who has very little discretionary income myself.

When we started this business we only had a few products but we knew we needed more than just bathsalts and wind chimes so the first few cons were spent with Tracey running the table and me wandering around doing market research. I had a clipboard and went around asking people what they wanted but could never find? What fandoms did they love but never saw? What product would totally excite them? From all those questions we developed a list of products we wanted to make and then we had to go about developing the skills necessary to create those products.

I gotta tell you. That part was hard as hell. I mean I pick up skills pretty easily and I came with a few really good ones. I’m a Master Seamstress, I love fabric and sewing. Unfortunately so do many others so it’s very hard to market my skills unless I can fill a very specific niche. So we had to look to other items on our list. One of the first products we developed that has been the longest running was the Anime Chopsticks. It’s the best example for what I’m talking about when I say Product Development. We had the idea but not the skills needed so we had to experiment. There were no tutorials, no How Its Made videos online to crib off off so I had to sit down with paper, four kinds of glue and dozens of chopsticks and just work at it until I got it right and I’m still working on improving them.

If you want to stay relevant as a business selling products to Millennials who care more about experiences, quality and usability you have got to think outside the box. You have got to be willing to learn new skills and practice at them and keep improving them in order to keep ahead of all the other vendors who are trying to sell in the same market with the same products as you.

I have learned one thing in all of this and that is that Millennials are willing to spend money, just not on what the Boomers and Gen Xers think they should spend it on. They will spend money on a quality product that ticks the boxes they think are important. Things like sustainability, durability, usability and social consciousness. This generation more than any other places a huge value on the sustainability of a product, is it made with recycled materials, is it Green? They place huge value on how long it will last because odds are they had to sacrifice something else just to be able to afford that trinket so will it last them a while? They value something that they can use repeatedly so as much as they admire the art print of Sailor Moon playing Ping Pong with Gaia they may skip it and go for the coffee mug with Artemis and Luna dancing under the full moon instead. And they are more conscious than ever of the social consciousness of an item. This is a generation of artists who are hurt more than ever by unpaid internships and getting paid with ‘Exposure’.

It’s Funny ’cause it’s true!!!

This is a generation who has redefined gender, tolerance and equality and if they think you’re prejudiced in any way they will shut you down faster than you can say  Dean  Winchester.  So you have got to keep that in mind when you develop a product.

Flexibility is really key in this industry, being able to learn new skills, to think outside the box and to adapt to the rapidly changing fads and factions within the community. This industry really is like Game of Thrones, it’s challenging, it’s cut throat and it kills dreams faster than White Walkers and Lannisters combined. So you have got to be able to adapt and work harder than you ever have at any time before.

You only think I’m kidding

Now the good news is that there are dozens of niches that can be filled that Millennials will go bananas for. Think about the things that you love, that you want, that you would be willing to buy. Think about what you already know how to do and come up with creative ways to add to those skills. If you’re good at scrapbooking sit down and think about how you can take those skills and create a product out of them. Ask your friends what they would buy from you with those scrapbooking skills. Oh you can only decoupage? Well hell go get some junk comic books and make a decoupage jewelry box! Or picture frames or… see what I mean?

Develop one product at a time and build on the successes of each product. Start with small numbers, ten of one thing then add a few extra after each sale. It has taken s two years to build this business, two years of building it one product at a time and it’s only after two years that this business has started paying for itself. Only after two years that I’ve been able to start paying myself instead of dumping every penny made right back into the business. But I cannot imagine doing anything else anymore.


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