Have you or do you possibly know of someone who created a product or service that they thought was going to be groundbreaking, only to find out that when they launched it, it was not only not the hit they expected but rather found it not to be a hit at all? I know I did.
It happened to me in the very first business that I had back in 1991, a clothing brand I started with my partner Gary while we were in college.
We created a product that we were very excited about and we sent samples to one of the top retailers in the United States at the time. I remember how excited we were to hear the buyer’s response. We waited a week and then called him up. The next part we were not ready for…
What did he say?
Well, he told us that he showed the samples to his buyer, assistant buyers, managers and salespeople from several of his stores, as well as many customers that entered the store. He told us that not only did everyone not like the product, but that when he offered to give away the samples (we told him he could keep them) no one would even take the product for free as they would be embarrassed to wear them! He said that the samples were now in a box under his desk and asked us if we wanted him to send them back to us, as otherwise he was going to throw them out!
Wow did that hurt! Talk about the necessity of having thick skin!
That would eventually be our very first hard-earned lesson that what I may think to be great, doesn’t at all mean our customers will think the same!
When Creating A Product For Your Market, Where Should You Start?
To determine whether or not your product or service will have any market value, any idea as to whom you need to ask? … THE PEOPLE IN YOUR MARKET. I know, it sounds so simple right? Well crazy as it seems, this is one of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing a product or service.
What the owner of the chain (who was also the principal buyer) did to determine the value of our product, was the exact thing every company needs to do, which just so happened to be the absolute opposite of what we had done!
The Truth Hurts
When we spoke to our salesman who got us the ‘in’ to send the samples to the buyer, all we could think of was what an a-hole the buyer was to treat us like that!
Strangely, our salesman told us to call the owner of the chain back and thank him for taking the time to give the product a true review and ask his opinion of what we needed to do to make the product marketable based upon the feedback he received from his people. Of course we were against it because we thought of him as jerk! But our salesman (who actually turned into one of our greatest mentors and helped grow our distribution from 30 stores to over 1800 within fifteen months) insisted on us calling him. Before we made the call he told us four things:
1- Nobody’s a jerk who tells you the truth.
2- If you don’t listen, then YOU are the jerk
3- If you don’t grow thick skin early in the game, you won’t ever be able to handle rejection, which will make your chance of succeeding pretty remote.
4- The reason why this guy was known as the top mind in the industry was not because he was the smartest mind in the industry, but because he knew how to test the market before he bought a product as your market never lies!
No Room for Subjectivity
Despite the fact that the buyer (owner) was regarded as the top spotter of trends in the industry, he still stuck to the principal of asking the market first. He knew, even as good as he was, there is always a level of subjective thinking when making a personal decision. So even the most N2ITIV people go to the market first to see if what they believe to be marketable actually is marketable!
Why Do I Need To Ask Anyone Else About The Market When I Am The Market!
If you truly embody the market you are creating your product for, it is true that you do have a great advantage over those who are not. The problem however, like I just mentioned, your opinion is always going to be subjective so you can’t stop there.
One great example is that of a friend and colleague of mine Daymond John, founder of FUBU, and one of the sharks on ABC’s hit entrepreneurial show, Shark Tank.
Daymond possessed the first quality we just mentioned as he was deeply embedded in the market as a consumer. I’ll even go as far to say that he was a clothing fanatic. So the first part he had covered. The second thing he did was recognize the value of his current engagement in the market and was N2ITIV enough to realize what an invaluable resource this was to test the product before he put it into production.
He wouldn’t so much go around and ask what they thought, but he did something that achieved the same result. He would give the product to video directors, performing artists, the DJ’s at the hottest clubs; you name it he gave it to them. If they wore it, that meant they liked it because nobody wears a product they don’t like unless they are being paid to do so, especially when they are wearing it on tour or in a video where millions of people are going to see them! So these were great indicators that he was creating a product that the market wanted. He also had three partners, which created even more value as four people in the market were judging it before they even went out to the market. If all four of them liked a product, odds were at the very least they were off to a good start!
Sixteen years and over six billion dollars later, he still practices the same thing he did back then! Before any collection is made and product moves forward, he and his team are up day and night analyzing the market value of each individual piece. Picky? Well think about it. If he makes one bad item and produces a million pieces of that item, and the item sells for, say forty bucks, that’s one gigantic forty million dollar headache he has on his hands!
Make It, Modify it, Market It
It is important to note that Daymond was also humble enough to take constructive criticism so if enough people in the market would make the same suggestion that may make the product more marketable, he would shut up and listen. LISTENING! WOW! What a crazy thought! He also understood that what he was getting was free information that he would otherwise have to pay for!
Are There Companies Who Don’t Know Their Market, But Still Succeed?
Absolutely. The companies that succeed in launching products they are not familiar with, succeed mainly for one reason… They have the money to pay for the market research to determine the product’s value! For example, Proctor & Gamble makes over 200 different products and they do a great job giving the market what they are looking for.
Just remember though, they are not pulling this information out of thin air. They spend tens of millions of dollars at a time on research whether it is from research firms, hiring market specialists or sending surveys to their customers. This is one of the reasons why research firms have been one of the most successful niches in the world. This, however, is changing drastically, as the power shift is already happening due to the power of consumer outreach by utilizing social media.
I’m assuming you don’t have the type of money as Proctor & Gamble as you probably would not be reading this article if you did, so that being said, my suggestion would be to first research what your market is looking for (and you can use social media as a tool to help you), & then and only then build your product around that research, not the other way around!
Have a great Day!