I had the opportunity to chat with an entrepreneur who is building a mass-market physical product a few weeks back. We’ll call him Fred for the sake of this discussion. Fred has been working on his project for over a year and has put the vast majority of his business effort into perfecting his product and the manufacturing process, but he hasn’t done any work to generate interest in their product. Fred claims to have a marketing plan, but doesn’t have a website, any sort of social media following or a list of people who have expressed any interest in their product.
Taking a Marketing Last Approach
Fred is making a mistake that many other first-time entrepreneurs have made. He’s taking a “marketing last” approach. Like many other first time entrepreneurs, he thinks that marketing his product is something that will happen after he finishes developing his product or service. Some first-time entrepreneurs think that their product will be so good that they don’t need to do any marketing. Others think that marketing isn’t that big of a challenge and can be addressed by hiring an agency, setting up a Facebook page, or doing an advertising campaign. Fred is banking on the fact that specialty retailers will pick-up his product and do the marketing for him. Fred doesn’t realize that specialty retailers will probably be hesitant to pick-up his product if no one’s ever heard of it.
Unfortunately, Fred is probably in for a rude awakening when it comes time for his product to launch. Most people that don’t get around to doing much marketing prior to launch end up having very lackluster sales (if any at all). People can’t buy your product or service if they don’t know about it. Unless you’re executing a concerted marketing campaign prior to your launch, no one outside of your immediate circle of influence is going to have any idea that your product exists.
Even if you were to execute a great marketing plan a couple of weeks prior to your launch, you might not get any sales until several weeks later. It’s very rare that people will purchase a product the first time they hear about it. It often takes several touch points to get a potential customer to the place where they will be willing to hand over their hard-earned cash for your product.
Of course, most marketing plans don’t survive first contact with the customer. 75% of new marketing channels that you try either won’t work or won’t be a profitable way to attract new customers. If you plan on launching a product, but haven’t done any pre-launch marketing, prepare to be disappointed on launch day. You will likely find yourself with zero sales and advertising initiatives that are resulting in a return of investment of zero.
Taking a Marketing First Approach
I recommend flipping the marketing and product development processes around. Before you even begin any serious product development, you should do these three things:
- Know Your Potential Customer. Understand who your potential customers are. Are they male or female? How old are they? What are they interested in? Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they play any sports? How do they spend their free time? What common bonds tie your customers together?
- Talk To Potential Customers. After you’ve identified the type of people you are targeting your product or service to, you should spend time talking to them about the problems they’re facing and the category that your product is in. If you’re building a better spatula, you would want to spend a lot of time talking to professional chefs about cooking equipment. What tools do they use that don’t work as well as they should? What’s slowing them down? In your conversations, you might find that they don’t need a better spatula, but they do need a better blender. Talking to potential customers is the best way to reveal whether or not you and them are on the same page about your product.
- Identify Marketing Channels. After you have talked to some of your potential customers, you should have a list of 5-10 different ways that you will be able to reach your audience about your product. These could be things like advertising in a specific magazine, running a Google AdWords campaign or doing a direct mail campaign to a purchased list. Understand that most of the ideas that you come up with won’t work, but a few of them will probably work quite well.
Once you’ve completed those tasks, you can begin working on your product. This doesn’t mean you should forget about marketing and sales until launch day. While in your product development phase, you should be building an email list, a social media following and generating buzz about your product. You should also be researching and testing your potential marketing channel. There are probably other people that have launched products similar to yours. Find out how they market and sell their products. You should be putting 30-50% of your work effort into marketing and sales up to your product’s launch date.
Realize that marketing and sales is a major part of getting your product or service off the ground. It’s not an ancillary task that happens after your product is complete. Begin marketing before you start developing your product. Continue to market your product through the product development phase. Make your product launch a major event and continue to market your product in the weeks and months following the initial launch of your product.