Recently, I’ve found myself getting approached by a lot of people who have “just finished their product” and are looking for their “first marketing hire.”
Very often, these products have fundamental flaws. Sometimes the product is an idea that has been tried many times before, and which the market has shown that it doesn’t really want, such as a platform for micropayments.
Other times, they are ideas where the chances of succeeding against the incumbent are impossibly slim. If you are building an enterprise chat solution, a project management tool, or a Steam competitor, you are simply too late.
The common thread with a lot of these products is that they view marketing as something that is done at the end of the process, to package up and put a pretty ribbon on the product.
If questions like “who is this product for?” been asked, they have either been answered with “Everybody,” or accompanied by unrealistic projections of routes to market. Of course, it would be nice if YouTube integrated with your platform, but you have a two-month-old SaaS app, and that is not going to happen.
Positioning is left to “those clever people in marketing” to sort out after the product has already been built.
If you’re building a competitive analysis, a datasheet, a PRD, or planning to attack a new segment, this job is a million times harder if the product has not been designed with a market in mind.
You might think that designing a product with a market in mind sounds a bit like cheating: it’s not, it’s just common sense. You may feel that having to go out and do the hard yards of competitive research is a constraint on your inner product visionary. You may think you operate with some kind of reality distortion field where you can make products a success through sheer force of will.
Sadly, most technical products are still built without answering simple questions about who the target market is, and what value they will find in the product. It’s easy to blame the CTO for this, but often the CTO just wants to code and doesn’t know any better.
More often, the fault lies with VC firms who throw money at companies on a scale up and scale out model. These firms should be asking the hard questions before the product has finished its development cycle. Instead of hiring hundreds of engineers, they should be funding market research so that engineers time is not wasted building stuff that will never find a market.
There is very little upside for a marketer in joining one of these companies. Who is going to join a company where they are going to have to face investors and tell them that the product was developed in a vacuum? If you’re joining as a humble product manager, you have almost no chance of making meaningful change in a company once the product has reached that point.
Before you build anything or designers have even started to prototype the product, you need to be able to answer:
– Who are the buyers for this product (by title, job function, by company size, and industry)?
– What is the value of the product to that person or people?
– Is this enough of a pressing pain point for them to spend money on this?
– Is this enough of a pressing pain point for them to spend money on this right now?
– What are the alternatives to them buying my product (this isn’t always competitors, sometimes ‘doing nothing’ and ‘building it myself’) are options too.
– Why would they not do it themselves?
– What is my market position or niche?
– How can I position myself to be #1 in my niche?
– Is the niche big enough in itself to sustain a product (i.e. the number of people that actually want ‘Facebook for Dogs’, ‘Uber for Pets’, ‘An on-demand VR platform for gamers’ is likely too small)?
If you can’t answer these questions, how do you know what to build?
When you need to make trade-offs about items on your feature list, how do you know which items to leave behind?
If you can’t answer these questions, then that is a massive red flag and you need to take a step back and do some market research.
Whether that research is talking to analysts in the space, performing a market validation, or talking to potential customers, you will gain insights that will help you prioritize your features, jump ahead of the competition, and position a product that is truly unique in the market.