Many businesses start out with an original idea for a new product or service. Next comes the process of fleshing out that idea. It’s exciting, but there’s also a big pitfall to avoid: does that product fit in with what customers are looking for? In other words, is there product/market alignment? This question is the key to crafting a popular and successful product.
Whether you’re working on the menu for your restaurant’s opening night, or adding features to your new app, it’s sometimes very easy to operate in a bubble. While it’s great to have a vision and want to see it through to the very end, it’s also important to keep your eyes open and remain objective in your approach.
So, how can a fledgeling business create a well-tailored product that customers will love? Follow our key points and you’ll be on your way to delighting your customers in no time.
Understanding product/market alignment
It’s difficult, but sometimes considering product/market alignment means taking a step back. It’s about looking at your offerings from the perspective of the people who will make or break your business: your customers. In this light, aiming for a well-tailored product will help you to create a product they’ll love in numerous ways.
Focusing closely on what customers actually want, perhaps even anticipating their unexpressed wishes, will give you every advantage in exceeding expectations. It can mean looking closely at the potential of your product and realising the opportunities to explore new market niches for it.
Equally as important, your focus on a well-tailored product shouldn’t stop after it’s launched. After all, your product range is the lifeblood of your business, so it’s vital to keep it fresh and relevant to what will hopefully be a growing customer base.
Flexibility: the starting point for a great product fit
You probably won’t have the resources or the market recognition of many of your competitors just yet. Likewise, without being able to rely on economies of scale, you may find it very difficult to compete on price alone. However, one area where small businesses can compete — and do so highly effectively — is on flexibility.
As an example:
Your bigger competitor might offer ‘silver’, ‘gold’, and ‘platinum’ fixed product packages. Whereas you might be well-placed to be agiler. Your approach, for instance, might involve a bespoke fit. This allows customers to choose precisely the features they want. They won’t have to be shoehorned into something that doesn’t reflect their needs.
This agility can work in your favour both in how you develop your products, as well as how you market them. Your approach to product development could in itself become a unique and valuable selling point of your business — the fact that you consult carefully with individual customers and work with them to produce a personalised product. By showcasing this on your website, as well as linking to examples of your work, you can really differentiate your business from the crowd and help it to flourish.
Honing your product to specific niches
Product development should always be undertaken with your customers in mind. So, who are these customers? For this, knowing your target market is essential. Through drawing up buyer profiles, you can get a clearer picture of who it is that you are appealing to, what they are looking for from your product, and where they get their buying information. Our guide ‘Getting to know your target audience’ can help you find the answers you need for this.
Who are my most valuable customers?
Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve developed a piece of software aimed at designers; you look at your records and discover that a small yet significant proportion of sales have been to architects. Examining another scenario, you might want to think about targeting your video business to the weddings market, but what about if you’ve also picked up a couple of valuable commissions from businesses looking for corporate videos?
In each of these circumstances, the application of the product in the marketplace has proven to be wider, or at least slightly different, than was first anticipated by the business owner.
So how do you respond to this?
On the product development side, it could be worth considering ‘tweaking’ the original product: perhaps offer a variant geared specifically towards the particular niche you have identified?
This aspect of product development is tied closely to the idea of niche marketing, something you can find out more about in our help centre. Depending on your resources, the potential size of that niche and the presence of competitors, it can be advantageous to tailor your marketing efforts to specifically attract these new types of customers.
How to market your product successfully?
Rather than simply listing its features, successful marketing involves focusing on the benefits of your product to different demographics. So you should always be thinking about who your most valuable potential customers are, how you can reach them, and how to present your product so that the benefits of it are clear to those valuable groups.
Keeping your product relevant
Startups that get involved in crowdfunding provide a good example of how to ensure continuing product/market alignment. Many are seeking not just financial support, but also direct input, comments, and suggestions from their supporters. So after a launch of an initial product, many go on to develop new iterations of their initial offering. It can even lead to the creation of whole new products, spurred on by this feedback from their followers.
This illustrates an important principle for all businesses:
The need to stay continually attuned to customer expectations. In some cases, you can get directly involve customers in product development. A local restaurant might invite some of its customers to a taster evening to try a new menu. Or a software company might offer its most loyal customers the opportunity to test drive a beta version of its new app. The feedback that follows from this can be invaluable, potentially increasing the shelf life of your current product, or providing the inspiration need to create a new one.
For further tips on growing a following, keeping in tune with competitor activity, and for marketing your business effectively, head on over to our help centre.