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Don’t use the field of dreams method. The notion of “build it and they will come,” is simply not true. So many companies build websites and wonder why they have no e-commerce sales. You don’t get “walk ins” from websites, and SEO is not a substitute. For SEO to work there must be existing demand. Don’t invest a fortune in a website without testing the product and the market.

The first stage is of course market research; this can help you do identify if there is indeed demand for the prospective good or service. However, it cannot identify if your product (in its current form) fills that need. There could be a number of factors that matter to the customer that have not been addressed by the product, but could be easily included.

When developing a new product, service, or website don’t spend thousands of pounds in development without doing the market research, and testing to see if the product is likely to be a success. Design the strategy. Write a good description, visualise pictures of the product, do a promo video and invest some money in how you direct people to the site. Don’t build everything and then expect customers to want it exactly as you do. The rest of the market may think differently. You can have a “buy now” button on something that doesn’t exist, which claims that it is out of stock when people click on it. This way you can establish exactly how many people want to purchase it. You will spend a fraction of your marketing budget doing this, and if there is not a market it will save you a fortune.

By using this method, you are able to gain valuable market insight. It may be that small changes to your product result in much higher sales. These changes can be quickly and cheaply identified before the product had entered the costly stage of the product development life cycle.

Imagine if you were developing a MVP for a Swiss Army Knife. The first stage would be to create a basic site whereby the customer can “apparently” can buy a pocket knife that has a tool for every task. When the customer goes through to purchase one of these, they are told that due to overwhelming success of the knife you are sold out. However, they are able to sign up to be notified when the knives are back in stock.

This stage isn’t traditionally in MVP. Originally the model would have called for a physical product to be developed (as in the next stage), but I believe that it can be extended to further refine the product. For example, your description could contain a knife, a pair of scissors, and a magnifying glass. Engaging your audience on the website and social media you could identify, for example, that most people are not interested in the magnifying glass and would rather have a nail file. By being smart you have already saved the cost of developing the magnifying glass and refined the product to a better fit for the market.

Once you have enough customers who have shown interest in the knife, you can develop it with a few attachments. The Swiss Army Knife with a knife, pair of scissors and a nail file is not the finished article. However, it has enough features of a Swiss Army Knife to gather validated learning and inform further development of the product. Customers might say things like “I wish it had really small saw on it” or “trekking through the jungle I find I never have a toothpick”. These features can then be added depending on their popularity, ensuring that the product is being developed to satisfy the most people in the target market.

This model can be used for services too, or even websites themselves. Take for example the decision to develop a multi-language website. You can use analytics to see the number of users from other countries; you can add language options to the existing site with a holding page; then you can add languages one by one, by demand.

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