Happy Monday! This week, I offer a simple tip that many excited entrepreneurs forget: your product or service MUST help somebody…preferably a large group of somebodies. In other words, to be successful, your product or service must meet a consumer’s unmet need. To make it more clear: a person has a problem, and you have the means to fix it! Think of it as the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.” With the push method, a company has a great idea for a product or service, develops it, and then unleashes it on the world. There has likely been little to no consumer market research, so the company only knows if the product or service will work once it launches. This is a gamble that many small business owners cannot afford to take.
The other method, which I advocate for, is pull marketing. This is where your business has an ongoing dialogue with your potential target audience about the products or services it would like to see. The key here, is to ONLY develop products or services that are wanted by the market. I can imagine your next question being, “How do I know what these people will want?” My simple answer – Ask them. Many small companies do not have the budget to contract out consumer testing to a research group, so you may have to be creative. This could be a survey you conduct with the members of your Facebook group or fan page, developing a low-cost prototype that you offer to bloggers for review or something else more in line with your potential customer base. I’ll give you a quick example. Back in 2002, I was designing web sites as a freelancer. I thought it would be cool to offer these services full-time to the African-American small business community. Instead of just opening shop and announcing to the world, “Here I am. Come buy my services!” I took a step back. I scoured the web and library for statistics on the number of African-American businesses opening up each year and the number of them with web sites. There was definitely a gap I could fill there. I also polled entrepreneurs I met at Chicago networking events and offered free web site critiques to those who already had a web presence. After the research confirmed my company would fill a consumer need, I opened shop.
Remember: before launching that new product or service, ask yourself – better yet ask your potential consumers – if it will meet a need. If not, consider holding off. I know you have likely been through a lengthy research and development phase, but it’s better to stop now than have 100K unsold pieces of merchandise in a warehouse somewhere or an office location with no client visits.
What methods do you use to understand your consumer base? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? Horror stories can help us learn, too!