The following post can also be found at futurefounders.com.
It happens more often than you realize. A company develops a new product with high expectations only to see it fizzle out once it hits the market. Sure, it might be innovative, it might be cool, and it might have even gained some momentum through competitions and early stage investment. But before long, the creators find themselves at a loss for one important thing – customers.
“But how?” they ask. This invention, app or service does something that nobody has ever done before! People loved it during development, so why won’t they buy it now?
The answer, often, is simple but concerning. If you find yourself struggling to gain traction with your flashy new product, this might be the reason why.
You Have a “Problem” Problem.
After pitching an idea, there is one question from a potential investor that ought to be more troubling to a presenter than any other: “What problem are you trying to solve?” It’s a concern because it means that the investor is not even able to get to the more important follow up question – “How is it going to make me money?”
If you as a presenter are challenged about the problem you’re addressing, you better have a quick and confident response because everything hinges upon your answer. If an investor doesn’t see a clear problem that your product or service fixes, then consumers almost certainly will not either. If consumers don’t see a problem, then they have no reason to make the purchase.
Making the World a Better Place is Not Enough
“We don’t need a ‘problem,’” some people say. “My product is simply better than the alternative. That’s what will convince people to buy it.” This is a dangerous path to walk, because brand loyalty is a powerful force. Sure, drawing a customer away from a bad product toward a better one is relatively easy, because there is a problem present–poor performance. There is an identified pain point that the consumer wants fixed.
However, drawing the consumer away from a good product toward one that is simply different (or slightly better) is another ball game. If you have to convince your customer that they have a problem that needs addressing, you still have work to do.
Not Everything Can Be “Revolutionary”
Still others try to manufacture a problem where there wasn’t one to begin with. Desperate to be innovators and entrepreneurs, they start by searching for a “revolutionary” idea and then work backwards to try to find the problem that it fixes.
This temptation to skip over any kind of market research process comes from a common misconception that a product needs to turn the world upside down to be successful. It doesn’t. It just needs to be relevant. In other words, it needs to solve a problem.
So What Can You Do?
- Go back. If you’re still in the early stages of developing your product, there’s good news – you still have plenty of time to backtrack and firmly ask yourself what problem you are trying to address and whether it’s a real problem with promising market potential.
- Stop assuming. Quit asking prospective customers leading questions such as “How much would you pay for this product?” or “Would you buy this?” No one can answer such a leading question honestly on the spot. Be tactful. “How do you currently do ______?” or “How would you describe your current experience with ______?” are good places to start.
- Challenge yourself. Don’t get caught in the trap of creating something simply because “no one else has.” The first question that should be asked after an idea is “Why has no one else done this before?” Yes, there’s a chance you’re the first to think of it, but there’s a much greater chance that others have passed up the opportunity for reasons you have yet to discover.
- Shift your focus. Unsuccessful companies zero in on their product and how to make it better. Successful companies focus first on the consumer, and then use that awareness to shape their product.
If you’re in later stages of development or have already launched your product, the task before you can be more challenging, but not impossible. People won’t necessarily refuse to buy your product because it’s “bad” – they will refuse to buy it because they don’t see the need. Therefore, it’s your job to get creative. Don’t show a customer why your product is great – show them why they need it.
Ethan Adams serves as Coordinator, Startups at Future Founders, a non-profit organization that believes every youth can become an entrepreneur. He has launched and operated a number of his own entrepreneurial ventures including his own digital marketing consulting business. Connect with Ethan on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter for regular updates.
Future Founders is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that believes every youth can become an entrepreneur. Through entrepreneurship-focused programs like Discover, Ignite and Startup, Future Founders immerses youth in experiences that inspire and empower them to realize that they do, in fact, have control of their own future. Learn more or get involved with the Future Founders mission here.