5 Most Successful Products Ever and What Small Businesses Can Learn From Them

When planning your next product, the less you leave to chance, the better.

If you’re writing a business plan for a new product or business, you already know this. You’ve spent considerable time on market research, have put together financials, and have explored ways to start your business.

While you can never guarantee a successful product launch, you can vastly improve your odds if you prepare properly.

In 7 Epic Product Fails and the Valuable Lessons They Can Teach Your Small Business, we explored the important lessons your business can learn from products that spectacularly failed to make the cut.

But, avoiding mistakes is only one-half of the equation.

You need to know what a successful product looks like if you want to chart a course to get there.

A successful product quickly acquires new users/customers and delivers consistent value.

Unsurprisingly, companies with successful products grow their customer base, increase their revenues, and outperform competitors.

So, what better way to learn than to study the products that have cracked the success code? And, of course, ask the vital question – why?

Why were these products so successful?

After all, many successful products adopt psychological principles that influence customers. But these five products succeeded in ways their inventors didn’t anticipate.

That’s what we’re here to share with you today.

Set your business’s next product design on the path to profitability with the valuable lessons from these 5 positively staggering successful products.

iPhone (2007)

Image courtesy of MacWorld

In 2007 Apple launched the iPhone and revolutionized the mobile phone industry.

The iPhone debuted with outstanding success.

And that success has continued unabated. New research reveals that the iPhone’s market share grew from 37% to 44% in Q4 2017 – a record high.

So what makes the iPhone so special? CNBC’s Ruth Umoh reminds us,

At the time of the iPhone’s first launch, competing smartphones, such as Blackberry, were using QWERTY keyboards and styluses.

The iPhone’s touchscreen was sleeker in design and easier to use than a traditional button-based interface. And it caught on like wildfire.

But, the touchscreen wasn’t the iPhone’s only major innovation. In fact, it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The iPhone integrated phone, camera, music player, and internet access all into one device – and it did it well.  The iPhone also launched with iOS – the software platform that makes all of the magic behind that touchscreen possible.

Steve Kovach, the senior correspondent for Business Insider, opines:

iOS is the real rock star. Not the iPhone itself. Great hardware is one thing, but without a powerful platform behind it, that hardware is meaningless.

The final element to seal the iPhone’s success was the App Store.  Launching shortly after the iPhone, the App Store facilitates the download and installation of apps onto the iPhone. For the first time, installing new software became easily accessible to all iPhone users.

And the rest of the smartphone industry scrambled to catch up.

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The Lesson for your business: Make life easier for your customers.

There are many lessons you can take from the iPhone’s success. But the overarching theme is that the iPhone made doing stuff easier.

You can do many things well with your phone as a multi-function device. The iPhone is supported by iOS, iTunes, and the App Store infrastructure. This integration and stability made, and continue to make, the device incredibly user-friendly.

The iPhone’s industrial design was unprecedented.

People. Love. Easy.

If your product solves a new problem that can make consumers’ lives easier or solves an existing challenge in a more convenient and user-friendly way, your product is on the right track.

The good news is that you don’t need to be one of the world’s most successful companies to design successful products, as we shared recently in Design a Successful Product: 6 Product Design Best Practices from Kickstarter.

Rubik’s Cube (1980)

Image courtesy of Ryan Roberts

The Rubik’s Cube is a run-away success straight from the unlikely homeland of Communist Hungary.

The inventor Erno Rubik patented the soon-to-be-iconic puzzle in 1975 and launched it internationally in 1980. He never anticipated the level of success his puzzle would enjoy.

Neil Nagraj of the NY Post reports:

By 1982, just two years after its international debut, 100 million had been sold. A market for how-to guides emerged, and Cube-­related books soared to the top of best-seller lists. A National Geographic spread in the early 1980s showed two Amazonian Indians in loincloths fiddling with a Cube.

The world was obsessed with the Rubik’s Cube. Rubik designed the puzzle as a teaching device for his architecture students. It is now the best-selling toy in history.

But why?

The Rubik’s Cube was a toy unlike any that the world had seen. It wasn’t a doll. It wasn’t a truck. It was a cube. And its sole function was as an enigma to be solved.

Cube inventor Erno Rubik has theorized that his puzzle’s success is based on the “basic desire to create order out of chaos” or due to its embodiment of “our most basic contradictions: simplicity and complexity, dynamism and stability, pleasure and frustration…

I posit that the Rubik’s Cube is the Venus Flytrap of puzzles. It lures you in with bright colors and a simple objective, leaving you helplessly lost.

First-time cubers see a simple challenge and ask themselves, “What’s all the fuss? How hard can it be?” And they have to try it. And try again.

The Lesson for your business: Provide a reason for customers to return.

The Rubik’s Cube combines simplicity (matching the colors) and complexity (42 quintillion possible permutations).  At first glance, one sees orderly rows of bright colors and a simple cube. A few twists later, and all bets are off.

This combination proved impossible to resist.

Solving the cube earned bragging rights. And the depth of the cube’s challenge kept players coming back. Today there are a variety of Rubik’s puzzle styles, and popular speed-cubing tournaments are still held.

Make sure your product offers something worthwhile to keep customers coming back.

New content, an enjoyable experience, or a lasting challenge may all call a user back.

What hook will keep customers clamoring for your product over time?

Lipitor (1997)

Image courtesy of The Daily Beast

Lipitor, an LDL (bad) cholesterol-lowering statin drug with sales over $141 billion, is one of the best-selling products ever.

The drug was developed when the medical establishment already had several go-to drugs for the same purpose.

Lipitor survived, thrived, and ultimately beat out the competition because it worked so much better than any other statin drugs on the market.

Chemist Bruce D. Roth, Lipitor’s inventor, told Business Insider:

“It tremendously, incredibly outperformed the other statins,” Roth says. “It was as good at its lowest dose as the other statins were at their highest dose.”

Lipitor’s remarkable effectiveness set it at the front of the pack.

But, Lipitor’s team didn’t rely solely on the drug’s strong performance to build their success. They also marketed their product wisely.

They took advantage of new advertising rules that allowed them to market directly to consumers by spending tens of millions on TV ads. And they organized a massive ground campaign stressing to doctors the value of their product in person.

But, without Lipitor’s excellent performance record, they’d have never even made it that far.

The Lesson for your business: do it better than anyone else.

Lipitor lowered LDL cholesterol more effectively than its competitors.

But you can follow their lead without the miracles of science on your side.

What “doing it better” means depends on your product and industry. You know your business best.

What can you do better than anyone else?

Make sure your product does that.

Super Mario Bros. Franchise (1985)

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone

As the 2016 Rio Olympics ended, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed the world to Tokyo dressed as Japan’s most famous ambassador – Mario Mario of the world-renowned Mario Bros.

And that says it all, really. Japan – a technical juggernaut and one of the most powerful economies worldwide – chose a video game hero to represent their culture on the global stage.

How did a character originally known only as “Jumpman” capture the world’s imagination and go on to make hundreds of millions in profits?

Mario first jumped into the global spotlight in 1985. Nintendo launched their game-changing video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, bundled with the game “Super Mario Bros.”

The Economist’s article How Super Mario became a global cultural icon reflects:

The game took place under a clear blue sky at a time when most games were played on a space-y black background. Mario ate magic mushrooms that made him bigger, or “Super” and jaunted from place to place through green pipes. “Super Mario Bros.” offered an entire world to explore, replete with mushroom traitors (“Goombas”), turtle soldiers (“Koopa Troopas”) and man-eating flora (“Piranha Plants”). It was full of hidden tricks and levels. It was like nothing anybody had ever seen.

That was in 1985. Super Mario games continue to innovate and earn astounding sales numbers today.

In 2016 more than 500 million games featuring Mario had been sold over the previous ten years.

When Mario’s most recent adventure, Super Mario Odyssey, debuted, it was the best-selling game for October 2017. When the game launched, there were only 3 days left in the month. Odyssey sold more than 2 million copies in those 3 days.

Business Insider’s Kim Bhasin points out:

Marketers dream of creating a brand like Mario. He has everything: widespread recognition, a positive reputation, and most of all, a devoted fan following that identifies with the character and what he represents.

The lesson for your business: innovate, then innovate some more!

In 1985 “Super Mario Bros.” introduced a video gaming experience unlike any other and redefined a genre. Mario was an entirely new type of game from the story-telling to the game graphics and mechanics. And Super Mario games continue to innovate with each new incarnation.

The key to success is always to stand out from the crowd somehow.

Innovate and give your customers a product that they haven’t seen before. Carve a new path with your product, offering customers something fresh, exciting, and new to capture their imaginations.

Toyota Corolla (1966)

Image courtesy of Hubert Vester Toyota

The Toyota Corolla isn’t the fastest car on the market.

It’s not the prettiest, the cheapest, or the most powerful.

But it is the best-selling.

The Toyota Corolla debuted in 1966. It was designed to be dependable and inexpensive.

Dependable and inexpensive turned out to be a pretty popular combination. That’s the brand identity Toyota intended to convey, and it succeeded.

Less than ten years after launching, the Corolla was crowned the best-selling car of 1974. It’s hovered around that spot ever since.

CarBuzz.com’s review of the Corolla asserts that:

The Corolla’s main selling points have always been its reliability, affordability and fuel economy.

It turns out that consumers value reliability when spending a large sum of money on a product they plan to have for a long time. And so, the Toyota Corolla became the best-selling car of all time.

The Lesson for your business: be a known quantity.

Peace of mind is valuable. And, a product you can depend on provides peace of mind and whatever other function it serves.

Consumers appreciate a “known quantity” – a product they know will be there for them whenever needed.

If you want your product to succeed in the short term and survive in the long term, ensure it’s dependable.

So, design your product well to start.

And when considering changes for future generations, feel free to make improvements.

But don’t change the essence of the product that your customers have grown to rely on.

Stand on the shoulders of giants

If you want your product to succeed, don’t stumble blindly and hope for the best.

Failure may be an inevitable part of doing business, but avoiding it in such costly situations as a product launch is best.

So, pave your way to success by following in the footsteps of those who have already found the way.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

When planning your next product design, don’t forget the giants who are there to help you along the way.

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