Starting a company is never easy. You can have the most innovative ideas that you see the potential of solving real consumer pain points whilst making a profit out of it. You may even know talented and passionate people to join your team and managed to pique the interest of financial backers. But once you mix these all together to create your product, the next step that comes is the hardest part: marketing it and validating it for the market.
When it comes to taking your product off-the-ground, oftentimes is not about you being the first to hit the market; it’s about how you put into your consumers mind how it can make a real and positive difference in their lives.
Tech start-ups today may not be aiming to take the world by storm and may have smaller target audiences, even at 1,000 users. But the lessons that can be learned from such strategies – on discovering the real-world benefits of said product or service; getting to know core target audiences; and understanding what competitors are doing – remain salient and should serve as key guidelines of how marketing, when done right, can help your innovative idea take off.
Step 1: Do a pilot
Meaningful innovation doesn’t just happen in a bubble. That may be so for the development process but when it comes to seeing if it’s useful for others, start-up founders should first gauge their market needs and the gap that is apparent.
But this doesn’t mean that they should go all-in and release their product to the market straight away. Not only would that be a poor utilisation of costs needed to create and distribute the products for the mass market, it can even garner you a reputation of releasing the product before it’s been market-tested and ready.
Therefore, a pilot marketing study in a closed setting should be done – a litmus paper test strategy that many tend to overlook. By preparing a pilot, obtaining data and extrapolating the insights gathered, start-ups can be placed more firmly in control to identify how consumers view the product. The study then helps them determine the most glaring drawbacks and help them improve on the product before releasing it to the world at large.
However, it’s important to note that even biggest companies prefer to not conduct these pilots alone. It’s vital that start-ups work with the enablers present in their ecosystem, and they could include personal networks, the deals made to finance the development of the products used for the study and even platforms to generate the content used for the pilot (i.e. market research agencies such as YouGov or tools such as SurveyMonkey to run research and polls).
Step 2: Identifying product-market fit to get the first 1,000 users
When your product is being eagerly snapped-up by consumers to the point that your supply can’t meet your demand – then you’ve achieved the holy grail of marketing that is the product-market fit. But getting there isn’t easy as many start-ups have failed by burning away their cash before understanding what customers really want. The next step would be finding the cohorts that may give higher life time value compared to the others. This is a valuable data set that goes into your marketing strategy
Having already tested the product at the pilot stage; this part is all about the consumer. The product ideally needs a strong value proposition and therefore be positioned as a solution to underserved need(s). But a company’s products are its babies, so it’s natural to be proud of them if we know it works, but others may not see it that way. It’s therefore crucial to first specify the product’s minimum viable feature set to help ensure that it can create at least some volume and inform you if it’s heading into the right direction.
The next part of this step is market segmentation. The way the product is positioned should not cater to the lowest common denominator of all your intended target audiences. Although different groups may share some similarities, people want to know how a product can help their specific needs ; They may not be interested if they see that the marketing messages have a catch-all nature and aren’t directly geared towards them.
Step 3: Iterate and pump those dollars!
After doing the steps above, often you’re still not ready to push your product out to the real market.
Even if you manage to get all the above right and your hypotheses have been confirmed, you still need to keep repeating the process – continually revising it as you learn, refine and tweak your product’s features to improve upon it until you know it’s fully-ready & get someone to pay for it eventually. B2B2C platform are tricky because the business models may take time to be created.
The process of iteration is something that is taken for granted by founders who are either impatient or have investors breathing down their necks to get their solutions market-ready.
In a tech environment that is being increasingly characterised by the need to introduce disruption, many start-ups are setting themselves up for failure if they keep cutting corners and leave stones unturned when ensuring their product is truly ready for the audiences they are aiming to reach out to.
However, this three-step process is only a guideline. The idea is to get a minimum set of validation to gain confidence to move forward. It will not ensure success as failure can come in many guises and may be external to marketing per se. A good product does not need marketing, it marketing will give growth momentum. But what these steps can help companies with is how to make the use of limited resources more efficient and how to raise the start-up’s confidence before they attempt to take the world by storm. If there is no validation, then it’s probably time to fix the problems or make a pivot.
This may help start-ups who don’t achieve success at first as they are likelier to go home with more money in their pocket to try something else in the future; instead of putting all their eggs in one basket and setting themselves up for unrecoverable ruin.
Lastly, when you are staring at failure, I suggest that you listen to every advice you get, be confident to discard every ‘expert’ opinion but always follow your intuition.
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