New businesses, or businesses launching new products, often struggle with their marketing strategy. Somehow, despite their best efforts, marketing campaigns just don't resonate with their target market. The most intuitive response is to re-evaluate the marketing messages, campaign tools, and maybe even the target market. But all of these efforts overlook another major consideration: Have you truly defined your product?
The great myth of our times is that technology is communication. —Libby Larsen
Ideally, marketing strategies should flow from a comprehensive product definition. Once you've defined how your target audience uses your product to solve a problem, the value gained by solving that problem, and how your users realized the benefits of using your product in particular to solve this problem, then marketing can be as simple as strategically raising awareness of these aspects of your product. So when an early marketing strategy fails, it's essential to re-examine your product definition.
Do you really have a product, or just a technology? Many entrepreneurs start out with a technological invention so exciting that they neglect to develop it into a fully-featured product. Even if your new technology solves a problem, it is essential to define how customers will be able to use it to solve this problem. It's also important to define all aspects of your product, as well as how various components or features work together. This definition process goes hand-in-hand with ensuring you've clearly identified your target market, and that you fully understand every aspect of how your product solves their problem.
The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed. —Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Let's say you understand your target market, as well as how your product solves a problem for this market. Now you face new questions: Do the people with this problem see value in your solution, and does it actually solve a real problem that a substantial number of people have?
These can be emotionally challenging questions. After all, you believe in your solution enough to put in the time and energy to bring it to market. But it's important to separate your view of your product from all of the other perspectives involved in deciding to purchase and use your product.
If you are selling to anybody other than individual consumers, start by dividing up your target market into buyer persona, user persona, and decider persona. Consider your product from their various points of view: Who does it have value for? Is the value of your product clearly differentiated from the value of competing products, or significantly better than the status quo? Is that value easy to detect by using your product, or do you need to improve UI/UX?
Also try to gain a deep understanding of how these personae interact within an organization: Who needs to communicate the value that your product provides? Is your potential user empowered to make purchasing decisions, or do they need to champion your product to others in their organization?
What we do see depends mainly on what we look for ... In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them. ―John Lubbock
When describing your product's functions, try to align your definition with how your users (or prospective customers) actually perceive your product. Is it a tool? A helper? A component of a larger process? A platform? Do different properties of your product have the same perceived utility or value, or does your product encompass a wide range of perceived functionality? Your users may have a radically different view of your product's core functions than you do―and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Perhaps incorporating your users' perceptions into defining your product will lead to a better definition of your target market and how best to reach out to them. Perhaps it will identify an entirely different target market than you initially thought. It might even point to other verticals where this functionality is valued. In any of these scenarios, approaching product definition from the user's perspective can only improve product market fit.
Defining your product is also essential for scalability. Without a clear, thorough product definition, it can be difficult to prioritize future product development versus scaling the core product. Specifying which features hold the most value for your customers makes it easier to balance ongoing maintenance and support needs with development of new features or improvements. Understanding the relationships between your product's various components makes it easier to estimate the amount of work involved in adding new features in a fully integrated way. Articulating the full functionality and value of your product enables you to respond to shifts in the business environment, either by providing the same functions in new forms, or by providing the same value in new ways.
So the next time you hit a roadblock in marketing or product development, take a step back, and ask yourself: Have you truly defined your product? Your customers, and your business, will be better off if you do.