A key aspect of starting a business is determining whether there is a market for your product. Nothing is more discouraging than spending time and energy developing a product you believe people will love, only to discover at launch that there's no interest.
Many products are built on a hunch, without any knowledge of the market. That’s why about 40% of products fail.
You can validate your product idea in a variety of ways. Depending on your business model, there may be a slightly different approach. Here are our top eight strategies for validating your product if you're just starting out.
What is product validation?
Product validation means testing your idea with real people to see if it's viable. By validating products before launch, you won’t waste money and time developing something people won't buy.
The product validation process
Product validation is the first step in building a new product or business. In order to research and validate product ideas, big companies often hire big firms.
In contrast, ecommerce entrepreneurs with small startup budgets often use a lean product validation process. Lean means finding out what product you can create with a limited budget.
Here are the steps to take when validating a product.
1. Define what people need
It wasn't until Steve Jobs introduced the smartphone in 2007 that anyone knew they needed it. The smartphone has become an integral part of people's lives, helping them connect friends, monitor health, pay bills, order groceries, and apply for mortgages. People save time and money by using smartphones—they can do everyday tasks and meet their needs more efficiently.
Often, products are built based on inaccurate information or judgment calls. It doesn’t meet a real need or solve a problem that people are actually interested in. That’s why asking “What do people need?” is a critical question to answer when strategizing your product.
2. Learn who your audience is
Once you know what people need, you’ll need to consider your target audience. Validating your customers can help you find the best customer segments with the highest potential to buy and identify early adopters.
You can find your target market by using the following tactics:
- Organizing focus groups
- Surveying existing customers
- Competitor monitoring
Need help defining your target market? Read What is a Target Market & How Do I Find Mine? (Examples Included).
3. Run a market analysis
The process of analyzing niche, industry, or segment of the market is called market analysis. An analysis of the market helps you understand your target market, the competitive landscape, and where your brand and product fit.
Your market analysis will identify:
- The size of your target market
- The price people will pay for your product
- Your competitors strengths and weaknesses
4. Figure out if people want the product
The last question you’ll want to ask is, “Do people want the product?” Will someone buy and use the product after interacting with it? In order to understand your target audience’s mindset after seeing your product, you need to know this answer.
It’s common at this point to create a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP) and give it to customers for testing. It is easy to send samples to a group of customers and have them evaluate the MVP.
There are several advantages to using an MVP:
- You can find out what potential customers think about the product’s value.
- You can evaluate a single feature at a time or the entire product at once.
- It reduces the amount of time spent on expensive product development.
- It delivers the product features your customers want.
- It makes it easier for you to communicate with your customers in your niche.
8 strategies to validate a product idea
- Make some sales
- Conduct competitive analysis
- Research existing demand
- Create a feedback survey
- Start a crowdfunding campaign
- Gauge interest on social media
- Create a pre-launch landing page
- Meet customers in person
1. Make some sales
Making a few sales is the first and arguably best way to validate your product. There is nothing more important than customers seeing your product’s value and exchanging money for it.
Until people pay you, your business is nothing more than a collection of assumptions. Getting to know potential customers is important, but you can’t build your business until people pay you.
Nimi Kular, co-founder of Jaswant’s Kitchen, has particular experience in validating product ideas for her family business that sells Indian seasonings and cooking kits. She says, “Market research, surveys, and feedback from friends and family can point you in the right direction, but money is the only thing that can validate a product.”
Kular would attend small shows and sell the earliest versions of their product. “For us, that happened at the first few shows we went to, where complete strangers bought our product. That’s when we knew we were fulfilling a genuine need with a product people would pay for.”
Market research, surveys, and feedback from friends and family can point you in the right direction, but money is the only thing that can validate a product.
2. Conduct a competitor analysis
Research is useful when you’re still in the ideation stage or seeking products to sell. Before investing too much time and money into your idea, you can mitigate risk and build confidence in your idea by exploring the current market.
The second step is figuring out how much demand there is for your product today so you can build a viable business. Taking a close look at your direct competitors is a good way to ensure there’s a healthy market for your products. Compare what they’re doing with what you’re planning.
Competitors confirm there’s market demand for your product. You can get a rough idea of whether this is a market you can successfully sell in by learning how long your competitors have been in business.
It’s easy to think that because you have big competitors, your product won’t do well. To combat these feelings, Kular recommends, “not getting discouraged when you see competitors that have already grown big businesses. The fact that they exist will give you a good sense of whether what you are offering is unique or different than what’s currently in the market, which can point you toward untapped opportunities or help you figure out what to focus on going forward.”
Competition is good, because it confirms there’s existing demand for what you plan to sell.
Some ways to analyze your competition include:
- Signing up for their newsletters
- Subscribing to their blogs
- Following them on social media
- Purchasing a product
You can also run an SEO analysis to understand how much traffic a competitor’s site gets and what keywords they rank for. You can also analyze a competitor’s audience demographics and paid search performance by using an SEO tool like Ahrefs.
3. Research existing demand
Analyzing demand and search volume is another way to validate your product. Now that you know more about your competitors, let’s look at potential customers’ interest.
Google Trends is a good place to start. You can use this tool to find out how often people search for your product. Google Trends lets you see if you’re dealing with a trending product that's on the upswing, or a stagnant product category. Jumping into a declining market is the last thing you want.
Ahrefs is another tool you can use. With this keyword research tool, you can find keywords and phrases related to your product and see the number of searches for each.
“We share recipes on our site in order to reach customers who may not know the names of our products or search for them directly,” Kular explains.
“For example, we first assumed people might be searching for ‘spices’ or ‘spice blends’ and we focused on those keywords, but over time we realized that if people don’t even realize that a product like ours exists, they won’t search for it in that way,” she adds.
“We realized they were more likely to search for names of the final products or recipes they wanted to eat, which could lead them to our products as a new way to make those dishes.”
4. Create a survey for feedback
Once you understand your customer base, it is imperative that they can communicate with you and provide feedback. A free survey is the easiest way to gather feedback on your minimum viable product (MVP).
Create an anonymous survey with a Google Form or SurveyMonkey. Include people who aren’t family or friends, as they may be less biased and provide more honest feedback.
Kular recommends to “be resourceful” with this tactic and “be willing to have conversations with friends or family to help you find your ideal customer.”
5. Start a crowdfunding campaign
A crowdfunding campaign is a helpful, proven option to see if there’s demand for your product. One of the benefits of a crowdfunding campaign is that you have a firm timeline, and it requires all of your focus and effort to reach your goal.
Market research can be useful, but real product validation requires paying customers.
If interested in running a campaign, it’s important to find the right service for your launch. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are well-known platforms, though there have been many others that have popped up in recent years.
6. Gauge interest on social media
Another way you can validate a product idea is through social media. Your followers know you best and will tell you what they want to see from you. Each day, millions of people express their feelings on social media, talking about what they’ve bought and their experiences with it.
Beauty brands like Cadence leverage their social media community for product development. Stephanie Hon, CEO and founder of Cadence, reports to Modern Retail that their customers reach out on social media often, specifically about colors they want to see.
She says, “I will say for future product lines it merges with what we’re already on track making, which is a great validation point for us. It’s very exciting to get a lot of requests and be like, Oh, just wait a few months. It’s coming. We’re always listening.”
Two key ways brands can use social media for product validation include:
- Social listening. You can analyze what customers say on social media, gain insight, and validate ideas quickly.
- Direct feedback. You can poll followers for product ideas, run live Q&As to understand their problems, and get direct feedback on MVPs.
7. Create a landing page
Make a microsite with your value proposition and an email subscription field to gauge interest and demand. Initiating a relationship with potential customers by driving traffic to your website and collecting emails is a great way to determine true interest in your product.
An easy option is to use Shopify's password-protected prelaunch page. Follow the instructions in the link to set-up your pre-launch page to capture email addresses. Your subscribers will also be synced from your store if you use Shopify Email or an app like Klaviyo.
Learn more: How to Create a Coming Soon Landing Page in 2022
8. Meet customers in person
A craft show or local market is another option Kular recommends with confidence. “This was so helpful for us when we started Jaswant’s Kitchen. It provided a convenient way to gather quick, first-hand feedback from potential customers,” she says.
You’ll get to talk to potential customers, see their initial reactions to your product, and learn if they're willing to spend money on it once you meet in person.
Find markets and craft shows that fit your brand and product in your area. Prepare a list of questions to ask customers, such as their color preferences and what competing products they are using. In the early stages, test different price points to see what works best for your product.
Consistently launch successful products with a validation process
One final point all entrepreneurs should keep in mind is to not let validation turn into procrastination. Doing the initial legwork to validate your product is undeniably useful: it will give you the confidence necessary to put yourself out there, and it can help you avoid costly mistakes, saving you time and money.
The truth is every business owner has to learn as they go, and trying to perfectly predict how everything will play out just delays you from shipping and selling the right product. Dipping your toes in the water can teach you a lot, but all of your research and analysis is ultimately just a lead up to that pivotal moment when you finally dive in.
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Product validation FAQ
What are the key points for product validation?
- Define what people need.
- Understand your audience and their pain points.
- Run a market analysis.
- Determine if people will pay for your product.
- Iterate on existing products.