You Don’t Know Who Your Users Are
If you’ve been developing a product or technology and are getting ready to put something in front of users, but you don’t know who your users are, you might be on the wrong track. We’ve seen this happen quite a bit with startups that have an engineering focus. A company may be pursuing an idea for a technology without thinking about a specific application or user need for it. We often refer to this as a solution in search of a problem.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find a problem that your technology can solve, but doing so is often quite costly. In addition to your doing the research that is necessary to properly segment the market, identify users, then understand those users, it is likely that you will have to make modifications to your technology for it to be viable in the marketplace. Such modifications could require significant backtracking or so much additional spending that making them would be cost prohibitive.
Your investment in product development is safer if you first conduct market research to ensure that you’re developing a technology that can return your investment. It’s true that there are companies that have been able to develop successful products without knowing their users or doing market research, but these companies seem to be exceptions to the rule. We highly recommend having a user clearly in mind before you commit financial resources to a development project.
You Can’t Find Your Users
If you have spent three weeks trying to recruit users and you can’t seem to find them, you might be on the wrong track. Even if you have particular users in mind, your inability to find them may indicate that they exist in very small numbers or may be difficult for sales, marketing, and advertising to reach. We’ve had clients who were attempting to target a specific user group that had a definite need, but a market that was just too small to address through a consumer product. For example, an application targeting fighter pilots and providing improved training might meet a strong need, but not have a large enough user base. Despite this significant need, a small and declining market of just 3,600 users meant that it would be extremely difficult to create a profitable consumer product for these users. Additionally, it meant that the population would be extremely difficult to recruit for user research.
Aside from there being a small market comprising few users, there are other reasons why a user population that is difficult to recruit might mean you are on the wrong track. Low-tech seniors, for example, are in need of services, but are difficult to reach through the most common recruiting channels such as social media, craigslist, email, or other digital communications. When recruiting low-tech seniors, you must often rely on friends and family and word of mouth. This difficulty in recruiting participants portends a similar problem when it comes to marketing and advertising the finished product to that market segment. While modern advertising has moved primarily to the Web, a company would need to rely on traditional media to reach this type of user. Purchasing advertising such as television airtime would be very costly for a startup or a company exploring a new vertical. These are all factors to keep in mind when identifying a market.