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When adding a new product or service, almost all businesses first focus on gaps in the marketplace that they feel they can take advantage of.
In recent years, a new trend known as “lean” has risen, which first focusses on discovering what your customers/the marketplace actually wants, before creating a product to fill that need.
It makes sense to create a new product that you know you will be able to sell, but even using this approach does not give guaranteed success every time. As many practitioners of lean will tell you, the issue is what people say they want and what they are actually willing to pay for can often be two very different things.
Lean principles address this issue by creating an MVP (minimum viable product) – investing as little as possible in the product until sales are made and the product idea is validated. Dependent on what your product or service is, this can still involve a large (albeit reduced) investment of time, money and resources.
Before the MVP is created, it’s common to see surveys being put to use to gauge interest in features and functionality.
However, the little discussed issue with surveys is that they are taken by people willing to fill out a survey - not necessarily by your ideal current or potential client/customer.
(I still think they are great, by the way, you just need to be aware of this limitation!)
But there is a better way…
Way back in the heyday of the large Madison Avenue marketing agencies, an incredibly powerful concept used in marketing, advertising and specifically direct response marketing was born. This concept is known as “the big idea”.
Put as simply as possible, the big idea was a vehicle that got across the sense, feel and often biggest benefit of the product you are trying to sell, all in the headline and content of the sales piece.
One of my favourite examples comes from a classic ad for Rolls-Royce, written by David Ogilvy. When asked to create a campaign for the latest Silver Cloud II, David created the headline:
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”
The big idea wrapped in this headline was that, at a time when car travel was noisy (1958-1962), the luxurious nature and build quality of the Rolls was such that you could hear the electric clock.
The clock being electric also promoted a sense that this car had the latest technology throughout. After all, if the clock is something special, surely the rest of the car is just as impressive as this peripheral item?
And there are many other examples of great “big ideas” out there - the best performing ones simply make the reader curious, engaged and have desire for the product all in one go.
Other examples of how a big idea disrupted a marketplace include:
Even companies that know and understand the power of the big idea, or those that practice lean principles, rarely link the two strategies. But that’s exactly how you can validate a new product or service, with the absolute minimum in terms of invested resources and capital.
In an upcoming article, I’ll discuss the process of how I have created and helped clients in discovering their big idea. But for today, I want to discuss the specific use of the big idea for validation.
The process comes from flipping the normal “way of things” over.
Most businesses will decide on the new product before then trying to figure out the best route to take that product/service to market. They will look at their new offering and try to work out the best way, the best headline, and the best vehicle to generate sales.
The problem with this way of doing things is that, even if you have the best product the world has ever seen, you still need to break down the barriers and get through the noise in the marketplace. Without getting your message through, you will never be able to validate that it’s the best product in the world.
There are so many good products out there that fail, simply because not enough people find out about them as they are lost in the noise.
So, surely with any new product (especially if you can’t guarantee its success), the first objective should be getting the marketing right and the sales message over in a way that ensures your test can be successful?
(NB: A successful test will either prove and validate the idea or disprove it and save you further investment in a bad product – it cannot fail, only tell you what you need to know!)
What if you started by working out a big idea – a new concept, not seen before in your marketplace? A new message, completely different from the sales broadcasts that your potential customers are bombarded with (and ignore) every day.
With a big idea that is easy and quick to test, you can create a sales page and run a testing campaign on Google or Facebook (other networks are available!) in literally 20-30 mins.
Now, I am not suggesting you sell thin air, but every industry can offer something for their customers to purchase - it just takes a little thinking outside of the box. The ultimate thing to offer is simply the idea of the product that fits the “big idea”.
I know you don’t have it ready - it doesn’t matter!
You can offer a place in your beta test group for a small deposit, securing their place as one of the first to be able to receive the new product or service. You’d then offset the deposit from the discounted price to thank your new customers for their trust in you and taking you up on the offer.
Alternatively, every business should have specialised knowledge built on their experience that could be valuable to their potential clients. Packaging this information would provide you with a product that, when matched to the big idea, can validate the product idea you will eventually run with, in the confidence that it will sell.
For the sake of argument, let’s go back to the Ogilvy Rolls-Royce example…
What if, instead of selling the car that had already been designed and built, the advert offered the chance of a test drive once the car was ready?
For a small fee, you could reserve your spot to test drive the car, with the reservation cost coming off the price of the car if you wanted to go ahead and order after the test drive.
Not only would this allow Rolls-Royce to “pre-sell” the car (as any good “lean” business would want to do), but it allows them to gauge the market demand, giving them the ability to more accurately forecast sales and ultimately how many cars should be built.
It provides them with an audience for consumer feedback during the design and build process - all without the need of what would commonly be thought of as an MVP.
It should go without saying, but please do act honourably if you use this strategy! Deliver on what you have promised.
In fact, scratch that, over-deliver on what you have promised!
Your test group deserves the extra special treatment… they may have just saved you a small fortune on product/service development costs and helped you guarantee a successful new product line.