Anytime you build a product and bring it to launch, you're taking a calculated risk about what your audience will be interested in. But how can you know if you're on the right path? Simple. You talk to your audience. Market validation is just that: talking to people who might buy your product, or who might be able to help guide your product, before it’s actually for sale. This might seem like a formality meant to check off a box, but if done right, it can greatly increase your product’s chance for success. And, the best part is that you can do it at any stage of the process, whether you’re still in the idea stage, or about to enter into the final round of development.
Read on for an overview of market validation, including who you should talk to, how you should approach them, and when you should do it.
Why Take the Time for Market Validation?
Imagine working on a product for months, only to discover that someone else has made almost the same thing. Or, upon launching your app, you learn that if you’d made one small change—like, skipped the Facebook login screen, because your audience isn't actually on Facebook—you could’ve increased engagement by a significant amount.
Even the best products are going to have a few blind spots—things that the creators weren’t able to see because they were too close, or because they were focused on some other aspect of development. Market validation can be an important pre-launch—sometimes even pre-development—activity that can help answer two critical questions:
- Is there a market for what you're building?
- Will what you build meet the needs of that market?
Often, the insights that come out of market validation lead to small tweaks that deliver big results, helping align your product with what customers want. You can also get insight into how to market your product and how to monetize it—and even get a better understanding of how your customers perceive it.
Start with Competitive Validation
If you haven't already, take a close look at what else is out there. Not only will this help you avoid creating something too similar to an existing product, it will also help verify whether or not there's a market or audience for what you're building. Is this something people will want? If you find there are similar versions out there, that's actually a good indication that the answer is yes. Take a look at the competition with these questions in mind:
- What are they doing well? Why reinvent that wheel? Take note of what is working within the app, and how it’s marketed and monetized. This is valuable info that will help you when you’re ready to put your version out into the world.
- What isn’t working? You may be able to drive preference for your product simply by solving a usability issue that plagues a competitor. Consider user reviews, star ratings and demos for insight into what is or isn’t working.
- What sets your product apart? Make sure this aspect is done really well. Highlight the key differences between your product and a competitor’s, whether it’s functionality or simply a more recent version.
This process can help you really hone in on what makes your product special from a customer perspective. It can also save you from repeating others’ mistakes!
Find Your Audience
Once you've reviewed the landscape, it's time to think about who can help you make sure your product is really hitting the mark. Who’s going to be interested in what you’ve built? Are there communities that might be particularly drawn to your product? If there are similar products on the market, those audiences might be a good starting point. Or, maybe you want to consider creating an existing product type that’s geared toward a new audience. For instance, there are plenty of coloring book apps for kids, but maybe you are capitalizing on the adult coloring craze with one that features high-end tools and designs. You’ll want to get feedback from:
- Potential customers. These are the people who will actually be playing your game or using your app. Keep in mind that at this stage, strangers will be more helpful than friends and family.
- Related experts. These are people with special insight, such as communities of enthusiasts, or creators of related products. Connect with them to expand your knowledge of your market, audience and competitive landscape.
Once you’ve identified your broader audience, you’ll need to reach out to find a smaller group of people who are willing to talk to directly to you. Professional organizations, Meetups, industry events, and online communities are great places to start. Stick to a simple, straightforward pitch—here’s my product, here’s why it’s cool, here’s what I’m asking you to do. You might be surprised at how willing people are to help. But still keep in mind the general rule—about 10-20% of the people you contact will agree to participate. So keep it simple, friendly, and ask enough people to make it count!
Keep it Focused and Open
Once you have your subset of users lined up, and you’re ready to talk to them, remember to keep it focused—simple and straightforward. It’s also important to be open to hearing what they have to say, and to provide enough open-ended questions to keep them talking. You don’t want to just ask them to choose between A and B. Ask about their experience. What did they like the most? Was there anything they looked for but couldn't find? Try to keep the conversation going. Sometimes the best insights come from something a customer says that you didn’t specifically ask.
Never Too Late, Never Too Early
As stated earlier, the biggest benefit of market validation is that it is relevant during each and every step of the process. If your product is nearly complete, it’s a great way to expand your understanding of how it fits into the market, and make any small tweaks to help it succeed. If you’re still at an earlier idea stage, don’t be afraid to find your market now—with honest hands-on guidance at the beginning stages, you can build a product your customers will love. And if you have a product that’s already in the market, but not performing as well as hoped, it’s never too late to step back and ask users why. Before you make big changes on your own, or go in a new direction, do your research and get a better idea of what’s going on.
What is the most surprising feedback you’ve gotten on a project? Share your experience in the comments!