In a scathing article published in January, The Guardian roundly denounced the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The article notes that the mega-conference failed to offer any products that customers actually need, and instead offered “incrementally improved nice-to-haves for the 1%.”
This pronouncement came on the heels of failed live demos of products (a smart kitchen robot that stopped taking commands for no apparent reason), products that only sound useful (a smart water bottle that tracks your daily activity and automatically squirts the necessary replenishing vitamins or supplements into said bottle), and things that just don’t make much sense (an airbag that goes around the hips of older folks in case they fall, accounting for aging and gravity but missing the other fact of nature that your grandma doesn’t want to wear an airbag, thankyouverymuch).
With this as a cautionary tale, how can new companies guard against… well, making things that no one wants or needs? How can you avoid building the next vitamin-infused airbag?
Don’t Pretend You’re Inventing the Smartphone
Look, if you wind up becoming the next Steve Jobs, more power to you (also, call us!). But chances are much better that your product or service will be competing in a market that already exists; or that it should be competing in a market that already exists. That’s because the likelihood of creating a brand-new market is extremely slim, and will probably just result in you losing a lot of money. And no one wants that!
This doesn’t mean you have to do the soulless work of finding a market first and then creating some way to appeal to it. But what it might mean is that you’ll tweak your business or service in order to appeal to already-existing clients. “Already existing clients” — It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Ask What the Market Can Do for You, and What You Can Do for the Market
There are a few key questions you’ll want to answer in order to determine what the existing market for your business looks like:
- how much money the market is generating in your area already
- how many competitors are out there
- whether the market is growing or not
For instance, if you’re looking to open a boutique chocolate shop in downtown Oklahoma City, you’ll want to find out how many other shops are devoted to selling high-end chocolate, or count high-end chocolate among their products; how much cash money they’re raking in every quarter; and whether there are other people trying to break in and do the same thing. If three boutique chocolatiers tried to open up shop in DTOC in the past year and failed, well, maybe you need to find another neighborhood, or try selling online. That’s a lot easier (and cheaper) than spending the money to launch, only to follow in your predecessors’ melted, sticky footsteps.
Figure Out Where You Fit In
So you’ve done your market research, found that your product is viable, and now you’re ready to hit the ground. Hold up, cowboy; first, you need to make sure that you’re not just reinventing the wheel.
“Didn’t we just spend the entire last two subsections talking about why I should reinvent the wheel?!” you’re likely wondering. Well, sort of. But fitting into an existing market doesn’t absolve you of the need to have a unique product. Going back to our delicious chocolate example, maybe you’re the only shop in town that makes pink specialty chocolates, or emblazons your candies with birthday slogans, wedding or baby shower slogans, or slogans for bachelor parties (bachelors like chocolate too!). Whatever you come up with, you want to set yourself apart in a way that’s small enough to keep you in the existing market, but notable enough for customers to know to go to you when they’re booking their eight-man suite at the Venetian in Vegas.
Go Straight to the Source: Your Clients
Hey, check you out — you’ve done your market research, created a niche, and now you’re ready to sell your products. And: you now have some of the most valuable input you’ll need right at your fingertips.
Since good local businesses are built on honesty, and since you’re going to be honest with your new customers about how excited you are to open up shop, you can also let them know that you welcome their feedback and ideas about your products. Maybe they love your chocolate, but think that the pieces are just ever-so-slightly too small (always). Maybe they have a great idea about other businesses in town that might want to buy them (hotels? restaurants? coffee shops?). Or maybe they have some other great idea that we haven’t even thought of — that’s why you’re going to ask. In the process, you develop deeper relationships with your customers.
They might seem daunting at first, but following these simple steps (and guys, they really are pretty simple) can have the hugely important effect of ensuring that you are not the dude standing on stage at CES selling a smart water bottle that no one needs. Worth it, amirite?