The Key to Developing Successful Products with Highlight CEO Dana Kim

In this episode of Beyond the Shelf: The Product & Packaging Podcast, Dana Kim, CEO, Highlight, an in-home product testing platform, shares her views on the pitfalls of product testing, the difference between innovation and renovation when it comes to products, and how her company is changing the product testing landscape.

Posted on 
June 6, 2023
Laura Foti
CMO, Specright

In this episode of Beyond the Shelf: The Product & Packaging Podcast, Laura Foti speaks with Dana Kim, founder and CEO of Highlight, an agile in-home product testing platform. After witnessing the difficulty of product testing firsthand, Dana was determined to change the game. With 5 years of experience at a boutique insights agency as a qualitative and mixed-method researcher and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business, Dana is transforming the market research space.

As many companies know, the process of testing a product can be long and grueling. Especially when it comes to creating the perfect product for your target audience. 

For many companies collecting product data, testing, and gathering consumer feedback is like piecing together a complex puzzle - and this can be a time-consuming process.  

Dana Kim dealt with this firsthand and that's why she created Highlight - a high-growth research tech startup that is disrupting the in-home usage test and physical product research space. 

From recruit to the data set, the platform's streamlining process allows customers to gather all the needed logistics to get the perfect product to its target customers.

With surveys and data analysis, Highlight seamlessly collects targeted feedback that companies can use to test various products. 

With drive and a knack for problem-solving, Dana was more than a pleasure to talk to and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to product testing and connecting with customers.

Below are some highlights from our conversation - you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop. 

On the Pitfalls of Old School Product Testing

“I, alongside many awesome other researchers, would oftentimes be sent out into the field and be standing in grocery stores, be standing in malls, be standing in focus group facilities, literally handing products out one by one and asking, "Tell me what you think of this new Dr. Pepper," or, ‘Tell me what you think of this new Starbucks ready to drink?’ And while important and impactful and wonderful for us to get that face-to-face interaction, for our end customers it was incredibly slow, incredibly expensive, and it wasn't always a scaled data set sometimes.”

On Virtual Testing and Gathering Representative Data

“Making sure you are reaching a representative pool of consumers that you are testing against is key to making sure that your data and your feedback are actually representative. When you think about going out into a Family Dollar or going out into a Whole Foods, the sample sizes and the cohorts that you are reaching are very, very different. In analyzing that sort of data, you have to be eyes wide open about the fact that your perspective is quite restricted. The beauty of going in-home and having a scaled product testing network that is not restricted to a certain geography is that you can be very, very conscious and targeted about who you are talking to. So, sometimes it is very specific. It is still Whole Foods shoppers or Dr. Pepper drinkers or Dollar Shave Club members or whatever it might be. But the idea is you can actually ensure that they are all 18 to 35 and representative of different ethnicities and household incomes and across the US as opposed to who happens to be at a certain geo-location at a certain time.”

On Virtual Testing and Organic Responses

“Another big difference between just going in person and actually grabbing folks and saying, ‘Hey wait, stop right there, try this!’, is when you're sending stuff in-home, the method in which you're collecting the feedback is far more organic. So, when someone is trying a new paper towel or a new concentrated cold brew or a new chocolate-covered strawberry product and you're standing in front of them asking them, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ they're far more likely to say something positive and they are far more likely to feel rushed in their response. They're in a very specific situation where a strange woman like myself is asking them for feedback in a public place. When you send someone product in-home and they're actually around their dinner table or they're bringing the snack to work or they're using the paper towel on their kitchen counter, that's a very different, more organic way of A, using the product, and then B, giving the feedback. So, not only is the audience that you're reaching far more representative, but the actual feedback that you're getting is more organic and therefore more valid and accurate.”

On Highlight and the Product Development Cycle

“There's a split of products that you would consider either innovation or renovation. At all times consumer product developers and marketers are making sure that their product portfolio is the best it can be. That can mean A, taking your existing products and making sure that you're constantly optimizing for the trends of today and your evolving consumer base and the evolving supply chain and sustainability goals and whatever it might be. And then there's innovation work that is done, which is adding net new products to your product portfolio and saying, ‘Okay, great, I have a vanilla and a chocolate chip ice cream. Now, what's the next flavor and how do I innovate a net new portfolio expansion?’ And so both of those are done on Highlight and both of those tests look very different, but they're equally important. Especially in this time and in an economy where there is not as much frothiness in innovation. We're actually seeing a lot more renovation of making sure, ‘Okay, my core product portfolio, is it up to snuff?’ Is it performing the best it can possibly be?"

On Increased SKUs and Sustaining a Competitive Advantage

“You can imagine with every passing day, the consumer product landscape grows more and more saturated and the pressure to innovate gets quicker and quicker and the number of different potato chip SKUs on the Walmart shelf increases. There's a wild amount of innovation happening both across the enterprise and emerging brands. And so the speed to insight and the need to react to how consumers are reacting to your products and having that really very clear positive feedback loop is really, really key to survive and sustain competitive advantage in this market. And while we say the time to insight is faster and you get your data live as opposed to a static Excel data set and you get your data in weeks, not months or quarters or sometimes even truly years, the end goal is actually not faster data, It's quicker innovation, quicker timelines, the ability to just move faster and compete in an ever-quickening environment.” 

On The Start-to-Finish Process of Highlight   

“Highlight is an entirely DIY product testing platform. Essentially the core modules that are included in testing on Highlight are A, targeting your audience. So, once you sign up and you create an account and you're led through a project flow, you are targeting an audience for your test. The next step is uploading your products for distribution. So, we actually integrate with third-party logistics providers. You send us your product in bulk and we distribute it to the audience you'd like to test with. The next module is feedback. Now that you've chosen the audience that you'd like to test with, you've sent us the product that you're testing, now you upload what exactly you'd like to learn. So, either the questions or the photo requests, or the video requests. We intake all survey photo or video feedback and then you sit back and relax and wait for an alert from our system that says your live dashboard is ready. Consumers out in the world are testing your products and answering the questions that you've uploaded prior. It's a very intuitive, front-to-back platform where you don't have to do anything beyond uploading your specs and sending us your products. It's typically about a few weeks from start to finish, and you can collaborate with your team and platform and see your data coming in live. It's a really nice way of taking what used to be hundreds of emails, many different contractors, expensive agencies, and really taking the ability to get live consumer insight on your product into your own hands.”

You can listen to the entire episode here, plus Dana has been gracious enough to provide our listeners with a promo code to skip the waitlist on Highlight! Listen to secure the code and start testing your products today!.

Follow Highlight on LinkedIn here or visit the website.

Don't forget, you can listen to all the Beyond the Shelf episodes here.


Laura Foti

Laura leads marketing and investor relations at Specright. Prior to Specright, she led advertising and analytics at GE Digital, GE’s Industrial Internet software business. Before that, she was a consultant at Deloitte Digital working in enterprise digital transformation, where she helped clients design and deploy eCommerce experiences, develop revenue-driving mobile apps, and reimagine their global digital marketing strategy. Laura was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising and Brand Innovators 40 Under 40 and 100 Women to Watch lists. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She resides in Newport Beach, CA.

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