Smallest Viable Market
This is marketing
In Lean Startup and in business generally, we usually talk about minimum viable product. The minimum viable product refers to the simplest working version of your product that you can show around t your customers to receive feedback from it. This practice is a useful way to gather both user data from your potential customers and to gauge the general reaction to the product that you will roll out to the market. It also allows you to generate some capital from the early adopters of the product as you start to generate a larger fan base that you will be relying on after you develop your product further and improve on it based on the data you gather from the early release of the product that might not match your initial designs or fulfill the full potential of the product that you can only see in your dreams.
Minimum viable product is a great tool and mindset to get to actual business as soon as possible. As soon as you can really. But what are those markets? Who will be the early adopters that you’ll be relying on to get your product the audience you feel it deserves? And how many of them will you need?
As you design your product to reach the minimum viable product stage, you should also be considering all the questions above. That’s where marketers can be your friends. Marketers duties and tools have expanded greatly from the heydays of the likes of Don Drapers. Good marketers know that only advertisements won’t cut it anymore. Potential customers expect more from the brands they choose to represent who they feel like they are, who they feel like they should be and who they feel like they want to be. And they pay even more attention to brands that they want to distance from themselves! Not to worry though, marketers’ tool kit has expanded with the same rate as their duties (if not even faster). Modern marketers base a lot of their decisions on data collected from their potential customers, their purchasing and user habits and general trends in the markets instead of only jockeying for a market share based on positioning as the only guidance for their efforts.
With all these new tools at their hands, marketers can be instrumental in figuring out where you should aim your product and where to find your audience. Because your audience might be completely different from the brands and companies you perceive as your competitors. That is something you need to know. Similar products can have completely different images in your head and in the head of someone looking from the outside in, who hasn’t slaved over the product for how ever long.
In addition to finding your real audience, you also need to find audience that fulfills your needs. How many customers you need to buy your product with what prices that you can actually produce it? The costs in production, designing, marketing and potentially shipping need to be covered, and it would probably be nice to make a profit as well. Those are important calculations that need to be run and a part of how you find your smallest viable market.
Smallest viable market doesn’t just cover your potential and necessary profits. When you are looking to figure out your smallest viable market, you need to take a close look at the product you’re selling. Who are it’s users? Who would benefit from it? Who are the influencers in that field and how do they influence the rest of the customer base (and influencer here doesn’t mean just the most watched youtubers or the most followed Instagrammers)?
If your answer to the questions “who is it for?”, is “Everyone.”, you are either kidding yourself, put no thought or research into your potential customers, or are have figured out how to lawfully claim all the oxygen in the world for yourself, like a Austin Powers villain. No one product is for everyone. It might be for a large percentage of the population, but those products are few and far between and even then have huge competitors. Toiler paper might be one such product, but even then different companies have positioned themselves to serve different need within the same large umbrella of need (wiping asses in this case). One brand tells the customers that it is softer, other one tells them that it leaves your hiney cleaner and yet other one brags about how it’s made with eco-friendly methods. All of these different toilet papers are aimed at different kind of needs and requirements. None of them caters to everyone who needs to clean after themselves in the bathroom.
Who should you aim your initial product launch at? Your customer’ attention is under constant attack from different sources of distraction, from thousands of advertisements and marketing campaigns to the thousands of people making noise on social media. Because of that you need to find the right people for your product. Those people are of course different for each brand and for each product under that brand. If you want to spread the word of your product, to “get the word out” as it were, you need to find the right category of people for your product and the people who influence that larger group of people.
Who the right people are will change with the product, with the markets and with time. In tech they are generally the early-adopters, the people who love to use, try and break every new gadgets that they can get their hands on. In cosmetics, they might be the few beauty Youtubers and bloggers who want to see the newest of the new in cruelty free, transforming make up products. In fantasy literature it will be the people whose house is covered in dog eared paperbacks, who go through a book in a week and probably play a lot of board games.
Stereotypes are, generally speaking, horrible and dehumanizing, but when figuring out your first users and customers, they can be helpful in figuring out where to aim your marketing efforts. They will also form the core of your product launch as ambassadors and if your product fills the need that they have, they will freely spread the word of your product, especially if you treat them well. They are your first customers, your closest partners and your smallest viable market.