Unlocking the Secrets of Product Testing: From Flavour Fails to Delicious Drinks.

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Welcome to the intricate world of product testing in this week's episode of 'Now, That's What I Call Business.' I, Brianne West, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at Incrediballs' flavour evolution and share essential insights that can benefit any business. Discover the advantages and drawbacks of focus groups, understand the nuances between soft and hard launches, and learn why paying customers are your most valuable resource for feedback. Whether you're in food, tech, or any other sector, this episode promises to arm you with the knowledge to pave your path to success.

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Kia ora and welcome back to Now, That's What I call Business. I'm Brianne West ,your host, and today we're going to dig into the nuances of product tasting. I know it sounds dead boring, but it's actually not. So, sit tight or grab your favourite drink, make sure it's plastic-free, of course, and let's get started.First, let me tell you about some incredible updates. Okay, so we have locked in our flavours and we are currently in testing, which is scary because, what ifI've collated all your feedback wrong? What if actually everybody really likes mango? You'd be wrong, but what if you did? I'm sorry to those mango lovers, but it does not feature in our first launch. There is 184 flavour options on my list, so I've had to narrow it down to 12 and we're not going to launch with12, but we're testing 12, because I imagine some of those are going to be better than others.

So, our process is really quite simple. I've sent our list to our manufacturer, and our manufacturer is currently going through flavour tests. Then we'll be doing feedback backwards and forwards, and then the exciting bit happens, which is when we get you guys involved. So, if you haven't already, go toincrediballs.com and sign up. Very shortly, we'll be sending out invitations to be part of our sip squad to some of you. Yes, I've called it the sip squad, because if you haven't noticed by now, I really like alliteration. I did this a lot with the tea. I used to get people trying our product. I used to do call-outs for testers all the time, and to be honest, it got a little bit soul-destroying, because about 50% of those people that you'd spend a lot of time talking to, organizing and sending product to, would actually review the product. I'm hoping this doesn't happen this time round.

But anyway, incrediballs.com, sign up to be a sip squadder... Sip squadder? Sippersquad? Because we need to crack into getting this feedback if we want to launch in April. April is my favourite time of year, so therefore that is a perfect time to launch. Now I also want to touch on the science of the packaging and the tablet itself, because there's a couple of people who are accusing me very salaciously of lying to you all and saying that actually we're going to have to use plastic. Well, we don't, because a very clever company has created a technology that means these tablets don't react to water in the air. Now that's the problem with effervescent tablets, which is why you see them in plastic all the time, or aluminum. Well, we're not going to have to, they can quite literally be in a cardboard box or loose on a shelf, and they are not going to react.

I'll dig deep further into the science of that in subsequent episodes, but rest assured no plastic here. It'll be the first drinks brand in the world that is absolutely home-compostable. That's pretty exciting. And yes, I've also had the question, what's the point? Because cans are infinitely recyclable. Sure, they totally are, and aluminum is not the worst material in the world, but they all have a plastic liner. You may not have known that. Anywho, I'll nerd out on the tech behind the tablet in future episodes, for those of you who are super interested.

Now, the flavour conversation's been really interesting, right? I've asked multiple times on multiple different channels what you guys want to see. And I mean the flavours, yeah, most of them are pretty obvious, you have blackcurrant, pineapple, everybody likes orange, I have no idea why. Cola's come up quite a bit. Lemonade, pink lemonade versus lemonade, there's all these options. And not many of them have been super unusual, so it's not been too difficult to do.The thing that makes it more complicated is how to sweeten them. So we can't get sugar in a tablet. Well, we can, but we can't get enough sugar in a tablet to make it sweet enough. Unfortunately, these are therefore going to be sugar-free.

I don't know why I say "unfortunately," because that's an absolute win, as far as I'm concerned. These are all going to be sugar-free and to please everybody, or as much as humanly possible, we're going to have a range of natural sweeteners and synthetic sweeteners, and before people roll their eyes at synthetic sweeteners, it does not mean they're harmful. In fact, they are studied to death. We know they're not harmful. But having done a lot of testing between the two, I absolutely prefer the sweeteners over the stevia-based one.

The stevia-based one is delicious. It's a newer tech developed around stevia, so it doesn't have that horrible bitter taste that so many people associate with stevia, but they just don't have the depth of flavour, because sugar equals flavour, right? So I would reach for a stevia-flavoured one if I want a slightly lighter flavour, something perhaps on a really hot day. Whereas the sweetener ones, I'm looking for, maybe if I'm, I don't know, drinking it with a spirit and trying to cover a bit of taste, or really I just want some comfort food.We're pitching them as two different ranges, if you like a more mainstream, great for kids, sweet, delicious variety, and then an after-dark, which has got slightly more exotic flavours. So you've got your blood orange and yuzu for example, which I personally, I can't say I'm on board with that flavour combination, but you know what? I will keep an open mind until we have tried it.

All our flavours and colours will of course be 100% natural. You all know how I feel about the word "natural," though of course natural does not mean safe. In fact, it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't even mean sustainable. But of course you can trust that ours will be sustainably sourced and fairly sourced, and also a special ingredient that might make them a little bit better for you than your usual soda. I don't know about you, when I founded Incrediballs just a few months ago, I really envisaged it would be live before the end of this year. I wanted to catch the summer.

ButI underestimated just how much testing we needed to do, which is stupid. I should know this by now. I used to pride myself in being able to come up with a product idea and get it out on the market within four months at a take. That would involve all safety testing, ensuring that it was stable on shelf, blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, sometimes you just can't move that fast, and as we are launching such a unique product and such unique packaging, then we have todo that testing.

I approached it quite casually in those early years of Ethique. I remember very clearly, my boyfriend at the time had his back to me and I was working on a self-tanner, and he wouldn't let me try a little on him. And look, and I know this was obviously not the right thing to do, but I quickly swiped a stripe down his back and pretended I was just patting him, just to see what would happen, because I was trying to get different testing on different people on different body parts to ensure that it was an even, nice tan. If those of you who remember Bombshell out there, you know what I'm talking about. It was a great tan actually, it's a shame you could never scale that because of the tanning ingredients.

Anyway,I also used the tester group I was talking about. So I would do a call-out on social media and I'd get, say, 50 people, and I'd get them to sign a confidentiality agreement and an agreement that they would give feedback. And as I said, some of them didn't. And then I would get them to fill out a comprehensive survey after a certain period of using that product. I tried not to use the same people every time. I did try and pick new people, although sometimes, if I knew somebody had bought a similar product, say someone had bought Heali Kiwi a lot and I was developing something else for scalp care, I would also send it to them to get their feedback, because they were more of an expert in our product.

In later years, we also started to use this as a way to get what you call marketing claims for your product. You've all seen on Dove ads, 97% of women,"this made their skin look more hydrated." And then if you look at the bottom of the ad in fine print, they'll give you the number of people sampled and it usually sits between 20 and 40. The numbers aren't huge and they're usually self-reported studies. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. Fine, if that's a way to prove your product, great. And that's what a lot of beauty companies use, and that's what we use to get our claims. So we sent out a massive survey to over almost 5,000 people. I think it's 4,800 people, and we got them to fill out forms on the products they had used. Did it help with dandruff? Did it help with this? Did it help your oily hair, or your oily skin, blah, blah, blah. And that's where our claims came from.

It was a really effective way of getting lots and lots of feedback from paying customers, because that's something I'm going to get into in a minute is, the best feedback comes from paying customers. I have a real problem with focus groups. I think they are kind of a pointless waste of time. Sure, you get quick, diverse opinions. Well, do you get diverse opinions? I'll come to that in a minute. You get quick opinions. You're going to see how people truly react to your product in real time, because you are there in a room with them or on alive Zoom with them or whatever, however you're doing it. But I think there's many more cons. So you have a risk of what you call groupthink, which is like mass hysteria, sort of.

People are less likely to give you their opinion if they're a lone voice in a room full of people who are all saying they love it, and they don't, well, they might not want to say that, because some people aren't that brave. Totally fair. They're often very expensive and time-consuming to do because you usually have to get a company who specialises in it to do it. But the biggest thing for me is that people who get a product for free just aren't reliable. And that's not an insult. That's just, when you are given something for free or you're offered an opportunity to become a tester, typically you feel a certain way towards that business. You feel a little bit more charitable, and therefore you are likely to give them a more positive review than if you had bought it, because that's your money on the line and you are therefore expecting a good result. And if you don't get one, you're likely to be crosser about it.

I prefer to always get feedback from customers who have paid me, But in these initial weeks with Incrediballs, obviously I'm not going to charge people to test things for me, that would be a little bit immoral. So I'm going to treat these testing results with a grain of salt. They're important, but I will definitely be surveying people throughout the first six months after launch, before we move into our hard launch phase.

What is the difference between a soft launch and hard launch? Good question. So back in 2012, I launched Ethique exclusively online. Looking back, that was was because I didn't know how retailing worked. I didn't even know if retailers would want the product and the packaging was not retail ready. I like to say that that was intentional. It was simply because I didn't know what I was doing. But that was what you call a soft launch, right? I didn't do any advertising, I didn't do a great deal of marketing. All of that was because I didn't have any money. But let's say it was an unintentional soft launch.

ButI started the company online, spread the word through Trade Me of all things, friends and family, and started selling. And then I just gathered feedback, constantly tweaked and reiterated everything from the product to the website to everything else. Before I was much more comfortable about approaching retailers and even mentors and business partners and so on. And that one-and-a-half years up to 2014 was kind of like a pilot era. We were figuring out what worked for a very unusual product. I'm not going to have it for as long at Incrediballs, I have quite a few more advantages than I did back then. I have more money, I know a lot more people. I know how to get testing out there and I know how to act on it a little bit quicker.

So for this soft launch period, I'm anticipating it'll only be a couple of months.We're going to launch exclusively online on incrediballs.com, probably onAmazon as well for the USA, and that way it's across America, Australia, andNew Zealand. I'm going to get such a bunch of diverse feedback from paying customers pretty quickly. Hopefully you'll all love it and that'll be great, because then it's a done deal and we'll launch into the retailers, because we've already had retailers say, "Please can we have this in store?"

Which is awesome, and I love that, and thank you so much for your support. But imagine if we got it wrong when we launched. I am very confident in these products, but imagine if one of those flavours just doesn't work as well. I want to find that out when it's online. I want to know that before it goes into stores and it just becomes a more complex headache for both me and the retailer, and my poor operations team. Let's make life easier. So the question is, of course, why move into stores at all? Well, I'm going to talk a little bit about our retail and export strategy in a couple of episodes, because a lot of people are asking me why on earth I'm launching into three markets at once, but there is a strategic reason behind it. I promise.

Obviously there's lots of other benefits for why the online world is your best friend.There's lower overheads, you don't have to worry too much about retailers or slotting fees. And if you don't know what those are, stay tuned in a couple of weeks for the other episode. It's easier to get that customer data and immediate feedback from both your website and asking for reviews, but also social media. I mean, you can do that in retail, but I think if you start small and work your way to retailers and to a bigger footprint, then you have a closer relationship with your customers.

I still know so many of my earliest Ethique customers by name, they often comment on my TikTok videos and that's really cool. That's as a result of the softly-softly, online, really work on having a relationship with people. And actually, our next episode is all about community. So I'm going to talk about how I did that next week. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this sort of soft launch online-only. One is that having a big retail launch, and the fanfare around it, that does make a bigger splash, it makes it look like your company is a big deal immediately from the word go, it just looks more impressive.

So say we were to launch Incrediballs at Woolworths and Countdown and New World and everywhere else all at once, people will be like, "Wow, this is amazing. I'm going to go try it." That's a great story for PR and it will engender press and that's exciting. But for this product, I think we've made the right decision. That is a little bit about how to go into product testing, why it's important, and online, offline launches. But mostly I want to impress upon you that paying customers are your best option for feedback. A lot of entrepreneurs will sit on a product and tweak it and change it and tweak it and change it, until they have never launched it. And that's such a shame, think how many great ideas are sitting on shelves or in brains because people are a little bit too freaked out about launching it, because once it's in the right world, then it's no longer your own and you can no longer control it.

AndI totally get that, but you are not going to get good feedback, and not therefore be able to make your idea into an actually good idea, until you ask other people, and until you get feedback from paying customers. There is a saying, "If you are not embarrassed by the first iteration of your product, you launch too late." God, I cringe when I look back at oldSorbet products, and I know that in a couple of years' time I'm going to cringe when I look back at Incrediballs. But that's okay, because ideas when they first form are usually pretty rubbish, and they need to be worked on until they're perfect, and lots of people need to do that with you. Very few ideas are perfect coming out of the womb. Incrediballs is not totally different from my original idea, but it's a bit different, and I imagine again, in a couple of years it'll be different again, and that's good.

As entrepreneurs, we fall so deeply in love with our business ideas and think it's the best thing that anybody's ever come up with ever, and often it's not. So I have an exercise for you, and this works regardless of where you are in your business journey. I've called it the "If money was no object exercise," because I'm super original like that. Now, JK Rowling, and I do not consider her someone to emulate in any respect as her recent behaviour. However, I remember reading an interview about her years and years ago. She's obviously the author of Harry Potter, if you're not sure. When she talks about how Harry Potter came to life, she was on a train and she didn't have a pen or paper or anything, but she was just thinking about the wizarding world and creating it in her mind. And because she couldn't write any things down, she thinks she forgot a lot of great detail she came up with, but it also gave her freedom to think, go far beyond little ideas.

It allowed her imagination to spiral and take her wherever she wanted to go. It became a super creative process, and it is something she talks about. I want you to do that. I do this quite often. My brain kind of acts like this becauseI'm a big-picture thinker, which makes me rubbish with details, which is why teams are so important. But I digress. So spend 20 minutes just brainstorming what you would do with your product if money were no object. Would you create amazing new packaging? Would you create some kind of entirely new way of using it, or would you create it in a different shape?

If it's software, look, I don't know, would you do software stuff? I'm not a tech person. I don't know. What problem would you solve? How would you advertise it to your consumer? What would you do in terms of marketing? Would you have a big launch? Would you launch globally? Would you partner with a celebrity? I don't ever recommend that, personally. What would you do with it, if the money was no object? What I would do with Incrediballs is put it on every airline. I think it is the perfect solution to the weight of liquid drinks that makes absolutely no sense to me, that we have so many soft drinks on flights. And I'm going to talk to Air New Zealand really nicely and see if they'll work with me in Incrediballs, because I think I could save them some fuel. Anyway, that's a future episode. But if you know anyone from Air New Zealand out there, hit me up.

I don't want to partner with celebrities, because typically celebrity endorsements don't work. They don't come across as authentic. There is a very large haircare brand, right, that's a competitor of Ethique's. They have a big celebrity behind them, and we still outsell them two to one. Clearly, I need to sit down for 20 minutes and think big about Incrediballs, because nothing else is coming to mind. Hey, if you've got any big picture ideas for me, let me know. If you don't have a business yet, why don't you just take 20 minutes to sit down? I recommend outside if you can. Sit down, chill out, try and ignore everything that's going on, all the background worries. I know how you feel.I'm constantly awake at night fretting about things that don't matter.

So thank you for joining me on this episode, all about products, you thought I was going to say "balls." I hope it's given you some useful insights, anda way to approach product testing that perhaps you hadn't thought about. So don't forget to set aside that 20 minutes and dream big, and sign up to be a sip squadder, or a sipper squad? To be part of our sip squad onincrediballs.com. I've been your host, Brianne West, and this is Now, That's What I Call Business, where we're not just talking business, we're changing the world. Until next time.

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