by Joe Johnson
Many organizations start by creating a product or offering without first figuring out who their market is, or whether a market exists at all. So they end up stuck trying to figure out how to sell said product. Most of these products fail because insufficient thought has been put into identifying a tangible unmet need in the marketplace – any marketplace. Having a good product is not enough (Betamax, anyone?) — you should have a pretty good idea who your target customer will be before you invest valuable time and resources in product development.
Proper product strategy and development is an iterative process. The process can begin from an observed frustration or need, applying existing skills in a novel way, serving an underserved segment, or, yes, a product idea. Just remember that your final idea will in most cases look nothing like your original idea. Start with a hypothesis and then validate through primary research. Talk to potential customers, but even more importantly, observe them (even, as Derek Peplau commented at the Product Strategy FutureM event, “follow them home”). Your customer cannot invent your product, so it’s up to you to spot their unarticulated need. No customer invented the iPhone, but it clearly meets a need that existed.
As you proceed through the process, remember that refinements to your target customer affect the need you’re trying to fill, which in turn affects the details of your product. Then reexamine how changes to your product idea affect the target. And the cycle continues.
Taking the iterative product development approach and keeping the focus on the needs of the customer is critical. But if you do it you will significantly improve your odds that when you finally build it, customers will not only come, but will cheer when you hit that home run.
Note: Missed our panel session on product strategy? There’s a video in the sidebar to the right.