When bringing a new product to market, most entrepreneurs follow the same, orderly sequence.
First, they focus solely on product development. After that’s complete, they focus on manufacturing. Once the manufacturing is setup, they finally start thinking about how to market and sell the product.
Though it’s the norm, completing these steps in sequential order is not the optimal way to produce a new product, and it greatly increases the chances that, after investing so much time and energy into the process, you end up with a product that no one wants.
Instead, the key is to market and sell your product while you develop it. This article discusses the benefits of this approach and details how you can implement it to produce a more successful product.
NOTE: This is a long, very detailed article so here’s a free PDF version of it for easy reading and future reference.
Marketing vs. Sales
Before delving into the why’s and how’s of marketing and selling while developing, it’s important to differentiate between “marketing” and “sales”.
Many people use the phrase “sales and marketing” as if the two items are equivalent (engineers are the worst at doing this). However, they are completely separate functions. Marketing involves bringing awareness of your product to large groups of people, but it doesn’t involve selling the product.
Marketing can be considered a one-to-many relationship. In this case, you would be the “one”. Not like Neo in The Matrix, but the one who is trying to get your message out to as many people as possible.
Sales, on the other hand, involves communication that is one-to-one or sometimes one-to-small-group.
While this article focuses on both marketing and sales, a majority of it focuses on the marketing process; building your audience as a precursor to selling the product.
Benefits to Marketing and Selling While Developing
Marketing and selling while developing is key to producing a successful product. Focusing on development while ignoring marketing is a recipe for failure, losing lots of money, and wasting a lot of your time. Do the two together instead.
There are three main benefits to implementing this approach:
#1 — Valuable Feedback From Potential Customers
It can be very difficult for anyone who believes they have a great product idea to acknowledge the possibility that 1) it’s not as great as they think it is and 2) no one will buy it.
Instead, it’s easier to think “My idea is great. I don’t need to fine tune it. I don’t need feedback. I know what people want and I’m moving forward as fast as possible!”
As difficult as it may be, that’s absolutely the wrong mindset to have. It causes people to begin development without ensuring their product is something people want. This can result in a substantial amount of wasted time, effort, and money.
Instead, it’s important to constantly test your idea; your product is just a hypothesis and it must be tested to determine if it will succeed. Marketing and selling while developing allows you to test your idea by gathering feedback from a large audience.
Feedback from many different people (and not just your friends and family) is absolutely vital. You will be selling your product to a wide range of individuals.
Though any one of those individuals has the potential to be wrong, the sum of feedback from a large audience tells you the truth about what your potential customers want.
Getting feedback from a large audience will shape your product during development so you can design what people are looking for. You’ll only figure out how good your product is based on what your customers (and not just you) think about it.
As mentioned previously, many entrepreneurs make the same mistake of being over-confident about their idea. They think their product is perfect, people are going to want it, and they blindly spend money developing a product that they hope people will buy.
Never have that mindset. Always test your ideas and constantly gather feedback so that you know what will happen. Entrepreneurship is not gambling.
The best-case scenario is that you’re able to sell your product before you start to make it. This is an effective way to validate your idea before you begin to develop it.
Assuming that you’ve already made some initial pre-sales to validate your idea, however, your next goal should be to continue building your market.
#2 — Sufficient Time to Build Your Audience
Marketing and selling while developing gives you sufficient time to build your audience using cost-efficient, effective methods such as content marketing.
Marketing is an extremely slow, long-term process unless you have lots of money to invest in it. Even if you do have hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw into marketing, doing so is a great way to waste a lot of money very quickly.
If you have lots of money you tend to look for shortcuts. A shortcut like paid advertising is typically not the right way to approach it.
Advertising may make sense later on, once you’ve proven your product and marketing message, but you need to understand your return on investment before you begin throwing money at advertising.
You are much better off if you go the slower, less expensive route to marketing which is generally content marketing. This approach takes time to build up so that is why you need to start building your audience as soon as possible.
#3 — An Audience Ready to Purchase Your Product
Marketing your product early helps to ensure that you have potential customers and investors ready to purchase your product when you go to sell it. It’s a huge advantage to have an audience ready because you took the time to build it up while you developed your product.
To do a successful crowdfunding campaign, for example, you can’t just set up a campaign and hope that people will contribute.
You also can’t simply hope that Kickstarter will prominently feature your campaign. They aren’t going to put your campaign on the front page unless it already has some serious momentum behind it.
To succeed with crowdfunding you absolutely must have an audience who can help to get the momentum started for your campaign.
How to Build an Online Audience
There are many ways to build an audience for your product, but building an online audience is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways.
Keep in mind that building an online audience is a slow, long-term process that requires a lot of patience and hard work. For those reasons alone, I suggest you start building your online audience as early as possible.
Use Social Media Platforms
There are various routes you can take to build your online audience. The first way to build an online audience is through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While I suggest that you pursue accounts on these platforms, I wouldn’t make it a huge priority. In my experience, the engagement you get through social media pales in comparison to the engagement you get through building an email list.
Build an Email List
Instead of focusing all your energy on social media platforms, I recommend growing your own email list. It’s a much more personal and effective way to connect with potential customers.
Building an email list while developing your product can be difficult. Developing a product takes a lot of time and energy, especially if you’re doing it all yourself.
However, it’s imperative that you find a way to build an email list at the same time, even if it means that your development takes longer.
To build an email list successfully, start by collecting email addresses from people who express interest in your future product or topics that relate to your product.
Once you gather email addresses of your potential audience members, engage them frequently by sending information that’s interesting or related to your product.
You could engage them by sending updates on product development, surveying them, getting feedback from them, or sharing pictures of your prototypes.
Once you have some early prototypes, I suggest picking a few of the most active people in your audience and asking them to provide feedback on some of your prototypes.
It’s important to engage your audience immediately and then continue to engage them to build a lasting relationship over time. You can’t gather emails, neglect to contact someone for two years, and then finally try to sell them your product.
If you wait that long to contact someone, they will have completely forgotten who you are, see you as spam, ignore your email, and/or unsubscribe.
I recommend building two separate email lists at the same time, a general list and a waiting list. This is a common marketing strategy.
First, a general email list is for audience members with an interest in the more general category that your website/product fits in.
It’s typically people that have gone to your website but haven’t specified that they’re interested in your product. These people may have signed up in exchange for a free PDF, entered a contest, or signed up for a newsletter.
Second, a waiting list is a more fine-tuned audience interested in your product. It’s a list of people that have given you their email address because they’re specifically interested in your product.
As an example, I’m creating a waiting list for my new membership program called theHardware Academywhich is opening in September.
This program is for entrepreneurs and startups bringing new electronic hardware products to market, and includes coaching, training, an online community, and direct access to me.
While I’m developing this membership program, I’m collecting emails on a waiting list of those who are interested in joining once available.
The people on a waiting list are more valuable than those on the general email list because they have expressed specific interest in your product. This is a much higher form of commitment than those who just want to download a free PDF from your website.
You can also use feedback from these individuals to help mold your product into exactly what they want.
It is a loose form of validation when people give you their email address, and it is not the same level of commitment as them giving you money. But it is some level of commitment and can be an early validation of your product idea.
Use Content Marketing
Content marketing involves publishing blog articles, podcasts, videos, and other types of content that will help you to get lots of very focused traffic from Google.
Content marketing is free (except for your time) and develops trust with readers so that they’re more interested in potentially buying your product when you go to sell it.
To get traffic and to market to potential customers, your website must produce original content frequently and consistently. If your website simply has a few short blurbs about your potential product, then you’re not going to get any real traffic from Google.
Instead, create lots of content related to your product that engages your potential future customers. If you have a water safety product, for example, then produce numerous informative blogs, videos, or podcasts about water safety issues.
Despite its benefits, content marketing takes a lot of time and effort to be successful. After some initial, small level benefits, it can take one to two years to get any significant traffic from Google or other search engines.
Fortunately, this is about the same length of time that it typically takes most products to get through development and manufacturing.
Once your product is ready you will have a large audience that’s excited and ready to purchase your product. This audience can also help spread the word to other people that may be interested in purchasing the product.
I can not stress enough how important having an audience is for the success of your product.
Develop Your Audience for Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is a great option for raising money to scale from a prototype to mass manufacturing and to pay for inventory once you have the product ready.
The best time to seek out crowdfunding is after you’ve built up an audience and developed a prototype.
Making commitments on when you can deliver is difficult if you don’t have a prototype completed, and you don’t want to upset your supporters by failing to deliver as promised. This is why it’s usually best to have a prototype before you attempt crowdfunding.
Take the smartwatch startup Pebble, for example. Pebble broke the record at the time for the largest Kickstarter campaign, raising over a million dollars. They did this by following the advice I just described; they built their email list at the same time as they developed their product.
By the time Pebble launched, they had an email list of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 people. While this is not a huge list, it was sufficient to get the momentum going on their Kickstarter campaign.
Once the people in their audience started investing, Pebble started ranking higher on Kickstarter and getting more publicity.
No one ever wants to be the first to invest in an idea, so having this audience of initial investors can really get the ball rolling.
Marketing while developing your product is critical for your product’s success. This strategy reduces risk because you’re not blindly spending money developing something that you think people want.
Furthermore, this strategy allows you to get feedback while you develop your product, which almost completely eliminates the risk of developing something that no one wants to buy.
Marketing your product early is also a great way for you to reach potential investors, suppliers, developers, partners, or sales people.
Your marketing awareness will help you meet people that may be interested in working with you in other ways to make your product a success.
Marketing while developing your product is especially efficient if you have a co-founder. One of you can focus on development while the other one focuses on marketing. If you’re a solopreneur, then you’ll likely need to do both yourself.
No matter how much work it takes, don’t dismiss marketing as being a lower priority or something you can deal with later; give it the exact same priority as product development from day one and you will be much more likely to succeed.
Want more in-depth articles about developing and marketing new electronic products? If so, be sure to check out the Predictable Designs blog.