4 Steps to gauge product market fit.

As a Start-Up Brand, you are running a marathon, but it’s more like a series of separate 1-mile sprints 26.2 times. Coming up with a brilliant idea, that hits a white space in the market is remarkably challenging on its own. Then comes the development phase, the funding phase, even before you hit the market. Spending time last year with a prominent VC, he indicated the biggest issue with start-ups is they’re missing on the “Product Marketing Fit”.

Meaning how do you even know you have a product people are willing to pay for? That meets a need or solves a problem better than anything else? And how do you know that even if it does meet their need, they’ll pay for it? One is never going to have perfect information to guide every decision, if that’s what you’re looking for, paralysis by analysis is sure to follow. But in the same vein, flying a plane blindfolded is not a strategy I’d recommend either.

Here’s are four tips to gut check your Product Market Fit, without burning through your cash.

1.    Understand your Brand Strategy: Before you even begin. Where are you going? How is your brand positioned in the marketplace? What do you stand for? What are your values? What’s your purpose? Having a defined Brand Strategy well-articulated can be the North Star for all of your product, marketing, and cultural activities.

2.   Quantify & get to know your target audience: There are tons of resources available now online to gain some basic data on different audiences. But it’s equally important to understand your desired targets motivations, emotional triggers, and behaviors. Social listening and putting down on paper your observations for this group can start to help crystalize a “persona” to cater to. IBM’s Watson has created an API called Personality Insights as a way to evaluate personality traits by assessing a person’s words on social media. Great if you’re building a cognitive app, but also if you’re looking to add an additional layer to understanding your consumer.

3.    Test your concepts before beginning development: A common CPG approach before any R&D resources are ever enlisted is to deploy a concept screener. This allows you to evaluate the popularity of a number of ideas to determine how interested someone is on a given concept and some base level pricing thresholds. There are several really good web and mobile-based research companies out there now that for a very reasonable price you can design a custom survey and identify the audience you’d like to reach. One company I like is MFour they have a sound “DIY” solution that may be right for you.

4.    Test your prototype & ask the tough questions: Once you understand the audience and the concepts they desire, you can build your minimum viable product and find a way to get it back in front of them for feedback. Some start-ups may do this step but one landmine is to finish this step without asking the tough questions. Asking “do you like it” will probably get a lot of head nods. But you need to dig further and ask: “Are you willing to pay {with your own money} for this?” “Is it better than X, Y, or Z alternatives?” This approach will not simulate an in-market test (and maybe depending on your product that’s a viable step as well) but understanding their response on will they or why won’t they convert to purchase is one you don’t want to miss.

Part of building a sustainable Brand is having a vision for a long-term innovative product pipeline that continues to differentiate and deliver on your Brand values. Too many resources (energy, time, money) are at stake across your investors, your team, and you to miss on this critical milestone. Thoughtfully putting a plan in place to understand the value you're delivering will increase your odds to win the race.