Your Market

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If you’re trying to persuade people to do something,
or buy something, it seems to me you should use their
language, the language in which they think. - David Ogilvy

Today I want to teach you about your market.

“How, Steve? You don’t know anything my product!”

That might be true but if you are building a product on the web, what I can tell you is that your initial market is going to be early adopters, “tech people.”

Let me tell you something about prototypical early adopters:

  • They deal well with bugs
  • They control the blogs
  • They are vocal on the Social Networks
  • They will love you, hate you or ignore you (just like everyone else).

It’s very difficult to generate sales from early-adopters. They are commentators and evangelists, not consumers in the traditional sense. They want to be let in the back-door, early and are typically unwilling to pay full price to get there.

For these reasons and many more like them, if your revenue model is based on getting early adopters to open their wallets, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Why should you care?

For the same reason politicians care about courting the press.

Early adopters are a critical market not because they generate cash but because they are the ones who will decide what the public thinks about your product.

Simply, early adopters control the online media.

As you push your product to market you should be doing everything you can to get into the minds and hearts of these early adopters.

  • Start a blog if it makes sense.
  • Develop a presence on Social Networks relevant to you.
  • Comment on web publications in your area of interest.
  • Be fearless; send emails to anyone who will listen.

There are two key points I need to pull out of this before we move on — relevance and belief.

I just mentioned a bunch of stuff you could busy yourself with, but I’d rather you do nothing than grind out a ton of irrelevant content.

Good marketing is relevant. You build a blog because writing 500 words a week on your industry will somehow give people reason to use your product. You don’t write a blog because every good web company has one.

You join Social Networks like Facebook or Twitter because your customers are there and you need a way to reach out to them. You don’t join because the guy at that one seminar showed you how to get 10k Twitter followers in a weekend.

You contact bloggers and pundits that talk about products like yours because you think they will be particularly interested in what you have to say, you don’t shoot out dozens of emails just because you can.

It’s very easy to waste time when your marketing is unfocused. Worse, unfocused marketing causes you to lose out on opportunities because customers appreciate simplicity, too much information is just as bad as too little.

When you are determining whether a marketing exercise is relevant, ask yourself two questions:

  • If I had to write my product’s message on the back of a postcard, what would it be?
  • Does this exercise help me more clearly convey that message?

If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Next on the docket is belief.

The difference between a good marketer and a bad one is surprisingly unrelated to techniques and tactics. Everything you need to know about marketing on the web can be learned in a few months time if you are open-minded and willing to soak up the information that is available. Sure, you might not be the next Seth Godin but you will have a working knowledge of how to disseminate your ideas.

The key difference between a good marketer and a bad one is belief.

It might seem strange asking whether you believe in your product (considering the hours you’ve put into it), but ask yourself — what are you willing to do in order to see it successful? What type of risks are you willing to take, and how much blood, sweat and tears are you willing to pour into it? It’s one thing to be willing to send out a few press releases and hope someone picks it up, it’s quite another to do something truly extraordinary.

Entrepreneurs who have no problem spending months struggling to bring an idea to life, often have a really hard time getting over their fear of telling the world about it once it is done. Willingness to take risk is by far the most valuable skill a marketer can possess and getting over the fear of “no” is the next big step towards making your product a success.

Since we are now at the stage of the event where pushing your product forward is more about taking chances than fixing bugs, let’s take a deeper look at risk.

A Canticle of Risk

If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be too cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. – Annie Dillard

Two Mice

There are two mice sitting in a cage with a button. Being curious creatures, each mouse decides to experiment a little and nudge the button to see what happens. The mice find that about 50% of the time they hit the button they get food, the other 50% of the time they receive a rather unpleasant electric shock.

After a few hours of experimentation, they figure out that no matter what they try, assuming that they hit that button, the shock is coming half the time.

What do the mice do?

One of them accepts the risk. When it’s hungry, it hits the button. Every few hours it gets a nice jolt to the system for its trouble but all in all it leads a pleasant life (as much as any mouse can). The other mouse can’t stand the idea that it gets shocked 50% of the time. It spends days trying to work around the electrocution problem without touching the button. As it pontificates, it gets weaker and weaker. As it tries to reason its way through the problem, the days of hunger start catching up to him. The other mouse tries to get his friend to press the button, but he won’t have any of it.

Eventually this mouse dies of starvation.

Problems rarely have a perfect solution. If you spend too much time searching for one, you will lose the forest for the trees. It’s always better to deliberate as long as you have the time and resources to manage it. When you don’t, when you’re trapped between food and starvation you need to do something and be willing to accept a few electric shocks.

A Reflection

People are careful, careful creatures in just about everything they do. It’s why there are so few entrepreneurs in the world.

No one wants to fail.

No one wants to be wrong.

This mindset is very practical, even for an entrepreneur, you have limited time and limited resources — one too many missteps can mean the difference between a successful launch and a slow death.

Just because it’s practical, does not mean it’s always appropriate.

Remember, the best solutions are almost never found on the first try. Like we discovered about good ideas, good solutions to problems come through a process of iteration.

As a challenge, take the most difficult problem you have been running into off of the shelf, dust it off and come up with a way to deal with it. Make some phone calls, write some code, talk it out with your teammates — do something. Don’t stop thinking about it until you come up with an answer.

There is a very good chance that whatever you come up with won’t be the best answer. Maybe there isn’t really a best answer to be found at all. What you will have done, however, is get the ball rolling. Now, when you have the resources to tackle the problem again, you will have some foundation on which to base the next solution.

Keep in mind that no amount of reflection will allow you to predict every angle. Sometimes, you just have to make a move and see what happens. If you are considerate, it won’t take long for you to figure out what changes need to be made.

Now that you are fearless, let’s turn our attention back to the nuts and bolts of your product and begin refining it.

What’s All This Talk of Utility?

Utility is when you have one telephone, luxury is when you have two, opulence is when you have three - and paradise is when you have none. – Doug Larson

What else should you be doing while you are fearlessly venturing forth into the world, spreading the good word about your product?

You should spend the remainder of your 20 hour work days finding innovative ways to build utility into your offering.

Utility is a very particular kind of functionality. Instead of creating a product that does something well, you are creating one that does something that people actually need. Twitter is a fantastic tool to transport data to and from any or all of your web applications. Facebook is an amazing rolodex. Blogs make it easy for you to disseminate information and share your thoughts. All of these products are successful insofar as they are able to convince their users of their continued utility.

They begin to fail when users lose sight of the use cases that made them important in the first place.

Product designers, pay attention, because this is where you can quickly undo all of the great work that you have accomplished up until this point.

Building utility does not necessarily mean adding more features. Building utility means taking the time to understand how your customers are using your product, and adjusting your offering to align with their needs.

Feature creep is the Cancer of early stage product development. When you are breaking your back to get the next person to use your product, it’s easy to believe that you can solve all of your problems by adding more cool stuff to it. This is rarely, if ever, true.

That’s why great products almost always follow the same mold:

  • They solve a clearly defined problem.
  • They do one thing well.
  • The UI simplifies instead of confuses.
  • They are incrementally made more complex.

When building products, create utility — not flash. If your web widget requires 5 hours of experimentation before users figure out how to log in, you are going to lose them. If you put that five minute flash presentation that you’ve been working really hard on between your users and their goals, they will find another solution.

Remember, one of the big selling points of the electric light was that all you needed to use it was a switch.

The Short Version

This chapter was less about identifying your market, and much more about preparing you to go into your market with guns blazing. Here are a few things I hope you take away:

  • Early adopters represent your core group of early evangelists. Do your best to identify where they live for your industry, and find a way to get in front of them.
  • The two keys to good marketing are relevance and risk. Be sure that all of your marketing activities form one, coherent whole and don’t be afraid to take the risks you will need to in order to implement them.
  • Problem solving is always about iteration. You can fail and try again, as long as you are honest enough to recognize your failures.
  • Building utility is about identifying how your customers are using your product and changing it to align with their needs, it’s not about adding more features on whim.


  • Develop a mainstream marketing plan. Put together a plan of action for how you will attract mainstream users. Keep your budget and your burn rate in mind. This document should contain clear, actionable steps designed to get non-early adopters to try your product or service.
  • Develop an early adopter marketing plan. Put together a plan of action for how you will attract early adopters. Keep your budget and your burn rate in mind. This document should contain clear, actionable steps designed to get early adopters to try your product or service.
  • Start a blog for your product. Use it to organize your thoughts and share information with potential users about your broader industry. For more information about starting a blog, see the Appendix. Note - this is more of an internal exercise than a marketing tool.
  • Sign up for accounts on social network and social bookmarking services, see which products and
    news items do well and how the stream of communication works on these services. Refer to the Appendix for a list of services.
  • This week, take one problem that you have been putting off and finish it. Do whatever it takes to fix that one problem and keep track of how many steps it took on a sheet of paper. Next time you are facing a nagging problem, use that sheet as a general guideline to solving it — being sure to add any additional steps that might come up.
  • What is the one sentence description of why I should use your product?
  • Buy yourself an ice cream cone.

Next: Wash, Rinse, Repeat | Your Facebook friends will love a copy.

2 Responses to 'Your Market'

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