Does this sound familiar? An entrepreneur comes up with a killer new product idea. They’re sure they’ve got their hands on the next big thing. This is the product that will change the world.
After talking to some friends, some family, and after a bit of crowdfunding, they get their hands on a chunk of capital to develop the product. A year later, they launch. No one buys the product, which should be changing the world. They run out of money, and the business folds.
This story is told over and over again. 9 out of 10 startups fail. The number one reason is a lack of market need. Makes sense, right? If there’s no demand for a product — if it doesn’t meet an actually felt need — then no one will be interested in buying it. That doesn’t mean that people have to be clamoring for a product before it’s worth developing. Uber, as a famous example, provided a service that previously really didn’t even exist. No one was asking for it because it wasn’t really a thing, but the demand was there because people were dissatisfied with the options that had been available on the market.
This all speaks to the importance of starting your market research right from the beginning of the product design process. You need to know whether your new invention is marketable before investing anything substantial into its development. But your marketing strategy doesn’t begin and end with market research — not by a long shot. In fact, to be successful, you want to be focusing just as much on getting your product out there as on the product itself. This is the 50/50 rule.
If you have a poor product, then you are destined to fail. But having a good product is no guarantee of success. If you start from the assumption that the product you have is a good one (and if your market research bears this out), then you need to start thinking about how you’re going to generate interest for your product and to build awareness of it within your target audience.
This is called getting traction: generating an increasing level of interest in and involvement with your product that scales as your business grows. Getting enough people interested to buy 100 pre-orders before the product launches is great, but once you’ve engaged the manufacturing process, you’re going to need to be attracting buyers in much larger numbers.
Generating this kind of ever-growing engagement which is essential for the success of a new business is a major challenge for many entrepreneurs, especially for those who thought that they could be carried on the strength of their product alone. There’s an old adage that says “if you build it, they will come”. You can forget about that saying entirely, at least when it comes to launching a new product or business.
The reality is that, with such a saturated media space and with the incredible variety of products and services currently out there, you cannot rely on the usefulness of a new product or invention to translate automatically into market success. All kinds of great product ideas never make it to market. There are a lot of factors competing for attention in the space you hope to break into. Rival competitors will have the advantage of already being established and recognized. High-traffic keywords have been claimed by unassailable webstites. You need to have a strategy to make consumers aware of your product, and to make them want to get on board.
This isn’t something you should wait on until you’re ready to launch your product. This is something you should be thinking about from day one.
Planning Ahead Makes You More Flexible
There are many different ways to build up traction for your business. Sometimes it can be hard to tell from the outset what the best way will be. If you wait until the last minute before engaging with your marketing strategy, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to test things out and to adapt.
Whether you’re planning on pursuing an offline or an online marketing strategy, you want to be engaging your potential customers long before you actually get into sales. One of the key reasons for this is for consumer feedback. You don’t want to have to wait until your product has been shipped before you start getting input from your customer about what works and what doesn’t work about your product design. This is valuable information that should be guiding you throughout the product development process. Remember that you aren’t designing this product for you, you’re designing it for the market. And so you need to listen to what the market has to say.
Engaging with the community this way has benefits aside from providing valuable information for the development of your product. Building up a rapport with your potential customers will also be important later on when it comes to actually launching your product. You can incorporate this kind of consumer feedback into part of your marketing/traction strategy by providing incentives for early adopters or offering special deals for pre-orders. This, in turn, can help you to generate an organic word-of-mouth campaign in favor of your product.
Many successful companies were able to make it big by building up a community of interested customers long before their product was launched. This gives you the immense benefit of having buyers lined up the moment your product goes on sale. Devoting much of your energy to product marketing in the early stages may delay your product launch in the short term, but in the long term it puts you in a much better position to gain market share and to capture the attention of consumers.
Knowing When to Pivot
Knowing when to pivot is crucial when it comes to steering your startup towards success. This is just as true when it comes to your marketing strategy as it is to anything else. The tactics you employ in generating buzz and traffic for your business in the early stages probably won’t work to keep you gaining the relevant traction later on.
For example, guerilla marketing and word-of-mouth can be great when you’re in the early days, but aren’t as effective when you’ve already established decent market share. Understanding when to switch focus from one marketing strategy to another is a skill that can make the difference between a product being the next big thing or being left behind and forgotten. The only way you can do this is by planning ahead and by running tests.
The best way to know when to pivot is to be focusing on your marketing strategy right from the beginning. Gather hard data on what works and what doesn’t, and keep track of the amount of money you are putting into a campaign versus the amount of customers that campaign is bringing you. Google AdWords is a useful tool that provides plenty of hard data concerning what terms are successfully bringing new customers to your business and which aren’t, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive.
As your business grows and your product becomes more popular, marketing strategies you have been relying on are likely to hit plateaus. This is when you’ll want to pivot on to the next thing. Knowing what the next thing you’re going to do is all about having a business plan.
Have a Business Plan
Having a well-researched business plan is essential for keeping on target. Set incremental goals based on realistic expectations, and consider when a milestone will mean a time to pivot, and have a good idea of what you’ll be pivoting too. As you develop your product, you should also be developing a corresponding marketing strategy that scales with the product.
Your business plan should involve considering the different marketing strategies available to you. You want to focus on the strategy that you think is most appropriate at any given time — don’t try to do everything at once. Not every marketing vector will be appropriate for your business at every stage. If something isn’t working, try something else.
Take time to identify what the appropriate strategies might be, and rank them according to which you think will be most effective. Chart out which strategies you will use at which points as your business grows, but don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as you monitor the effectiveness of your strategies.
Gabriel Weinberg, entrepreneur, creator of DuckDuckGo and author of Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers recommends the 50/50 rule: to be successful in your startup, put as much time and energy into developing your marketing strategy as you towards developing the product itself. Yes, it might slow you down in the short term. But remember: 90% of startups fail. So don’t rush it!
While you’re putting 50% of your energy towards developing your marketing strategy, that still leaves half of your attention on product design. Poor product design is also a leading cause of startup failure. Cad Crowd’s product design services will connect you with top-tier design talent who understand the manufacturing process. We offer industrial design, 3D printing design, and drafting services. Get a free quote today!