Market Concept Testing – Guerrilla Style

Marketing new products and services is vital for most companies. Many marketers, however, are unaware that fast, low cost guerrilla techniques for market concept testing can easily replace cumbersome market research, saving lots of money and time in the process.

A Simple Model For Strategic Thinking

In order to test a new market concept you need to have one, right? Use this simple, intuitive strategy model for understanding the dynamics in the marketplace you’re considering. At first you simply work through the model applying what you already know or strongly suspect is true about the market. Then you go back and support each and every assumption you’re holding with market data.

– What are the trends in my industry?
– What’s driving these trends?
– What are we currently doing about the trends?
– What are our competitors doing about the trends?
– What could we be doing about the trends to increase our profits?

During this process you’re squarely in the analytical phase of marketing. You’re creating ties between your idea and a market that will welcome or reject it. Do your work carefully at this stage or you’ll wind up with every marketer’s nightmare…a product or service that’s an answer to a question nobody’s asked!

Collecting Unbiased Customer Data
There are a couple of ways to approach this task. It’s recommended that you use both methods so that your information will be balanced between primary (straight from the customer) and secondary (conclusions from experts). The objective here is to clearly understand your WOW! and how you’ll prove it.

The first thing to understand (and many marketers don’t) is that business is a social process. Which means, to do this successfully, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time dialoguing with people…not noodling around on the internet. If the thought of this provokes anxiety you’re in good company. Most people don’t relish talking to strangers but successful people in just about every profession just bite the bullet and do it any way.

Step 1: The Internet Part
To establish a beachhead, and not duplicate effort, spend about 10% of the time you’ve allocated for this project internet research. The objective is to gain a baseline understanding of available information about current offerings and substitutes in this market space. You also want to understand the various marketing and sales channels. It’s especially good to know about substitute choices your prospects could make instead of buying your product. It’s good to look at the whole chessboard, not just the squares immediately surrounding your next-move.

At this stage we’re looking for available industry reports and similar expert analysis of:

• What are the trends in my industry?
• What’s driving these trends?
• What are our competitors doing about the trends?

You’ll find out what’s available by doing these searches:

1. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], financial analysts
2. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], market research
3. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], Hoover’s
4. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], [name of local newspaper]
5. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], business news
6. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], industry news
7. [industry name] or [product/service] or [major competitor], industry experts
8. Run similar searches on your favorite social media in case those entries were not picked up by the search engines.

If something about your subject has been written, pod casted, YouTube’d, tweeted, blogged or discussed at a conference you will find it with these searches. Sift through what you find and plug each piece of key information into the 5-point strategy planning model we’re using. Now you’ll see a shape starting to form around your strategy model.

Step 2: Create A Discussion Guideline
This is what you will use as a guideline in talking with potential purchasers of your market concept. In essence this is the heart and soul of your project. The care and accuracy you put into this step will determine whether your market concept test results are accurate.

These are the objectives:

1. Understand whether your WOW! is really a WOW!
2. Understand industry and purchasing trends related to your market concept…and what’s driving those trends.
3. Establish a view on growth opportunities for your company or division.

We recommend that you structure your guide so that it results in a discussion. People are more likely to loosen up and talk freely about your market concept, and the alternatives, if you’re not reading questions verbatim as in a market research survey. Sketch out five key areas of information that you want. These might include:

• What do you think about the concept I’ve presented?
• Steer them toward their thoughts on advantages and disadvantages.
• Ask them what would make it even better.
• What are the substitutes or alternatives including do-it-yourself and in-house solutions?
• How, when and where do you like to receive information on new products and services such as this?
• Digital
• Traditional (print ads, trade shows, telesales, etc.)
• Colleagues, friends & family
• Where and how would you most like to purchase something like this market concept?
• Steer them toward what’s the ideal venue for them, not just where alternatives are available today.
• You’re seeking every competitive advantage you can get.
• Would terms such as financing influence their purchase decision?
• Who is the final decision maker and who else is involved in making a purchase decision? Refer to your notes on complex sales and remember that large consumer purchases can often involve multiple decision makers and influencers.

It is critical that you not approach this exercise with pre-conceived notions of what your company can or can’t do. You simply want to visualize the best possible purchasing scenario for your new market concept. You can parse internal strengths and weaknesses later. Do not base a go/no-go decision on your weaknesses!

You may think of many other categories of questions. Just remember that most people will limit your time with them to 15-30 minutes so keep the number of categories low and focus on going deep in each category. You can always substitute different categories in subsequent calls with different people. Again, after three or four calls you’ll have a much better idea of which categories of information are the best for your purposes.

Step 3: Create A List of Potential Customers
The next is interacting directly with your market. This is a hugely valuable exercise for product managers, marketing managers and marketing leaders. You’ll learn more about your market concept in a day of doing this than just about anything else you might choose to do, including conjoint analysis and focus groups.

The objectives for this stage are:

• understand who holds the knowledge you need
• understand the role each influencer will play in a complex sale
• understand where, when, how and from whom they get their decision influencing information

The people you need to talk with can hold one or more of the following roles:

• Decision maker
• Influencer
• Approver
• User
• Deal killer

With some products and services, mostly consumer products and B2B products costing less than $1,000, you’ll be talking straight to the decision maker. With most other products and services you’ll be talking to the decision maker plus one or more of the other types of buyer. If you’re not familiar with the mechanics of a complex sale you’ll need to pause the project until you’re caught up. Just do a search on ‘complex sale’ and you’ll find what you need to know. This is critical for B2B and higher-end or more complex consumer products and services.

Your objective is to talk to at least 100 people who have direct influence on the purchase of this market concept you’re testing. If you’re testing a consumer concept (for example tax preparation software) start talking with people in your circle of influence including friends, family members, colleagues and professional contacts. You will qualify your research participants based on who prepares his/her own taxes and whether a software product is used. Once you have the list and their telephone numbers you’re ready to move on to Step 3.

If you are testing a B2B market concept you must go straight to the companies to whom you’ll be selling your products or services. You may have a few contacts in these companies but you’ll spend the bulk of your time talking to people you don’t know. Be up front about your mission and never disguise yourself as a student doing research for a term paper or project. Just be yourself and be honest in describing what you’re doing.

If you’re cold calling a company start where you can get a foothold. If your market concept is a new and better alternative to traditional inventory control systems in mid-tier manufacturing companies, likely you will be talking to people in logistics, purchasing, operations and accounting. Go to the company’s website and list the names of key people in those functions if they’re identified. Then call the main number or department number, if listed, and ask to speak to that person. You may get through or you may not. Regardless of whom you talk with, even if it’s the main switchboard operator, just give him/her your 25 word elevator pitch on what you’re doing and ask who they’d recommend speaking with.

You will find that after calling three or four companies your comfort level will rise dramatically and you’ll start getting through more often to people who have the information you need.

Summary
This sounds like odd work for marketing people doesn’t it? However the advantages of this approach are many.

First, it gets marketing people immersed in the marketplace. This is far better than the superficial practice of having marketing people shadow a sales person for a day or two once a year.

Second, it gives marketing people an affinity for the role of the sales team. It helps them understand selling so they, in turn, can work with salespeople on devising strategies to overcome resistance and objections.

Third it gives marketing people solid confidence and much more enthusiasm for introducing new concepts if they have discovered the marketplace dynamics and purchaser habits and practices. This confidence will spread to other areas of the company, giving the marketing and product teams more support than they would have otherwise.

So yes, it’s a truly different approach but it’s highly effective and takes a lot less time and money than traditional market research.

Case Study
A startup company in California has a new market concept for virus protection solutions for iApp (applets for Apple’s iPhones) vendors. This startup is reluctant to spend $50-100K on formal market research so they’ve decided to do the project in-house.

They plan to assess the current competitive landscape for iApp virus protection by:
• Conducting a search for iApp virus protection vendors, if any
• Interviewing a small number of current iApp creators
o Do the trends they’re seeing suggest a market opportunity for our concept?
o What do they know about current solutions on the market?
o How would our offering solve a current problem or pain point better than other offerings?
o What would they pay to solve that problem or pain point?
o What level of disruption or complexity can the organization handle for installation and testing?

Next, the startup will assess current substitutes for their concept. They’ll do this by conducting a search and gathering product specifications, distribution models and other key information for each of their potential competitors. Some of this information they will already have from collecting customer data from the internet and other resources they used. The rest of it they will need to go after using the same information gathering techniques. These are some possible insights gained from their efforts:

• Their new market concept would need feature adjustments
• Their new market concept would be targeted at iAPP creators only
• They can lean heavily on digital marketing rather than traditional marketing
• A utility pricing model (pay based on consumption) would give them a strategic advantage
• A unique guarantee would give them a strategic advantage
• Acquisitions would not be a source of competitive advantage near term

The team now has enough information to make a go or no-go decision. If it’s a “go” the next step is to make sure there’s plenty of money in the bank, or coming in, to fund development and commercialization. Before the software writers kick in, though, the team needs to create a marketing requirements document and a commercial release process to make sure they won’t run out of money before sales revenue kicks in.

What Every Business Should Know About Ecommerce Marketing Strategy

Running an integrated ecommerce marketing strategy is very important to your overall business goals and objectives. This strategy should incorporate all facets of your offline marketing and direct traffic to your site for lead generation and sales creation.

This necessitates auditing all your offline business materials to ensure that the web address is correctly referenced and considered. Most businesses that use the web as a serious marketing medium should have a formalized internet marketing strategy. This written document should scope and bound the marketing objectives, state the plans intentions and provide a basis for measuring or benchmarking progress. Here are some suggestions for incorporation into your ecommerce online marketing.

Email Marketing:

You should have a facility in place to collect email addresses and make regular contact with your subscribers. This is an approach that can be used to build credibility and allows you to keep in contact with prospective customers. When you release new products, you should use this channel to inform your subscriber base. This generates word of mouth advertising and can be a healthy form of repeat business.

Giving Away Free Reports:

By giving away free reports, both online and offline, you can incorporate sales material that directs potential customers back to your website for further information. This is a great way to generate traffic, showcase new products and generate new business. It also serves as a reminder to prospective customers who may be close to ordering.

Using Video:

Uploading free videos to your website, YouTube and Google Video provides a neat way to deliver a verbal message with a background presentation. People like to watch videos and once you are setup to create them they can be much easier to produce than writing extensive reports. Videos are a great way to showcase new products or highlight important features that can differentiate you from your competition. Using video will put you at the forefront of ecommerce marketing.

Monitoring Statistics:

Your web statistics can provide valuable insight into consumer surfing behavior. By regularly monitoring them you can discern important viewer trends. Heavy emphasis on certain sections of your site provides insight into consumer interest and can be used for additional product or content creation. Sections that are not generating interest may indicate an important area of your business that needs revival. It can also indicate an area that may need additional search engine and pay per click campaign focus.

This is several internet marketing strategies that you should consider as part of your marketing arsenal. By using a combination or all of the above you can reach a broader target market, build a customer base and expand your business activities. If you haven’t formalized an ecommerce online marketing plan then the above suggestions should provide you with a place to start.

Naked Web Marketing Part 2

The web shares

This should be a major consideration for web marketing, but instead it is ignored. A web marketer will suggest that we use Facebook, Twitter or Linked-in, among other social media because they all share. And that means that we forget about sharing through our own web site and we end up giving our best content away. And for what?

The time focus for Facebook is short. Even shorter for Twitter. Our best content should be shared from our own site first because it makes our web site stronger. Then we can feed bits to social media to attract attention. Attention from social media sites is very short lived and has to be constantly repeated, but on our own site the same information builds and attracts, and then builds and attracts even more.

If that doesn’t hit you between the eyes then you are not getting the significance of sharing. It is not just social media that can use this powerful aspect of web marketing and we would be wise not to put control of our most attractive content in the hands of social media. They can use or misuse it all however they please.

Web marketers don’t seem to get it

Web designers and web marketers are pretty much sold on letting trendy social media control your web marketing. They can make money by running your social media campaign, which may be quite alright if they also helped you share directly from your own web site.

Sharing is important for long term growth and it can be accomplished over time. Don’t rush or panic. The truth is that all your, so-called, competitors are not sharing and are not growing. Time is something you have a lot of, but there’s no time like the present for getting started. And you are probably wondering just what your business has to share with its market.

A brief list of the more important web attributes:

• No time or space limitations on web marketing

• The Internet swallowed all other media and makes them adapt to the web

• The web is a virtual reality – having many more nodes plugged in

• You don’t find your market – they find you

No time or space:

As soon as you start talking about your market’s biggest problem – You know, the one you solve – then you have all the time and space you could ever want. Your market likes that, it attracts them and it interests them. Keep going, talk about other problems they have so as to include an ever wider market.

Swallowed all other media:

The web is not like any other media. It can be your telephone, but it works differently. It can be your newspaper, but it works differently. It can even advertise and use push marketing, but most of the benefits come from using pull marketing. In fact, pull marketing is second nature to the web and has a much greater reach than trying to push.

The web is a virtual reality:

A virtual reality is no less real than a physical (material) reality, it’s just that a virtual reality has many more social, business and institutional connections all plugged in and ready to connect.

Your market finds you:

Your web market is anonymous. It is your web site that has to have attractive content in order to stand out from other sites. Web designers like to think their awesome designs attract but search engines don’t pay attention to graphics. Web marketers like to think their advertising attracts but web users (you and me included) try to ignore ads.

The biggest attraction for our market is when we share information about solving their problem. They didn’t come to our web site to see pretty web designs or to see and read our ads – they came thinking we could help them.

Attracting your market

Helping your market by sharing your information does not mean giving away the recipe to your secret sauce. Your competitors may want the secret but your market could care less. They are not going to mix up a batch of your secret sauce, instead they are going to want you to implement your secrets and pay you for doing that.

You will have many ways your secret sauce can be used and your web site can list them and hold them all. All of the problems your secret sauce has solved can be written up and go on the web. As you share all the problems and solutions you can remember you will be building a destination web site while other business owners are chasing after a market they can’t see or touch.