Do a quick web search on ‘why startups fail’ and the top reason of almost every list is ‘no market need’.
Yes you can have it all: a great team, an amazing product, an eye-watering marketing budget; but if there is no user demand, you’ve not got a business.
To avoid this scenario, you need to start with the customer or user and work backwards. You need to be agnostic of solutions, products or services and instead focus on real people to deeply understand their problems and needs.
And from there, you can begin to find the best ways to help your target audience achieve their desired outcomes.
This is your user strategy. You can also call it a customer strategy, an audience strategy, a stakeholder strategy or whatever terminology suits – the key point being that you are ‘loving the problem’ and are not tied to any one product, solution or idea.
The following questions will help you formulate your user strategy, using a fictional fitness product (MyLeanRoutine.com) to help you think through the problem and solution spaces.
1 – What is the customer problem to be solved?
Often there is a surface-level problem, which leads to deeper needs and it is important to dig down to try and get a grip on what those deeper needs are.
For example, MyLeanRoutine is an app that helps people who struggle with their weight to develop healthier eating and exercise habits for long-term weight loss. On the surface, the weight loss problem is being solved. However there may be deeper needs and motivations based around confidence and self-esteem, that are the real customer problem.
Could there be a better way to respond to those deeper needs and motivations? Maybe or maybe not – that is what the user strategy needs to discover.
2 – Who are you solving the problem for?
Being specific about who you are solving the problem for enables you to really tailor the solution to their needs. In the case of MyLeanRoutine, yes there are lots of people with weight-loss needs, but not all of them will have the motivation or desire to try a weight-loss solution.
By using a process called segmentation, it’s possible to narrow down your audience to a targeted niche, so you can decide what solutions to provide – and what you solutions you won’t provide.
So instead of targeting everyone, MyLeanRoutine focuses on dads who want to slim down / tone up, without sacrificing all the fun and comforts of life. Those looking looking to develop hulking great big six packs are outside of the audience scope and will be better off finding a different app to help with their needs.
3 – How is the problem impacting their lives?
You may have an idea to solve a customer problem, but find no-one is interested in using it. One reason for this is the problem is only a minor irritation or occurs so infrequently that it is not a priority.
The best problems are the ones that cause a constant headache and motivate people to take action. Is the customer losing money or are they wasting time on repetitive tasks? What emotional needs are not being fulfilled?
As you spend time with your target audience researching their needs, focus in on the impact of the problem, as this can reveal many hidden layers of insight that will help you provide a better solution.
4 – How are they currently managing the problem?
Perhaps your target user has cobbled together their own solution to the problem. One option is to find out what this looks like and see if there is room for improvement. Maybe they are using products or services that already exist on the market? If so, find out what they are and how well they fulfil your audience’s needs.
In another scenario, you may find your target users are just sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the problem. Again, try to find out what is preventing them from dealing with it? Are they just procrastinating or are they so worried, that it is easier to pretend the issue is not happening?
5 – Will they invest time, money or effort to solve the problem?
Spending lots of time in the problem space enables you to build up a deep understanding of your audience and their needs.
You may already have some evidence that they will be motivated to invest either their time, money, effort (or a combination of all three) in solving their problem, but before you make your own investment to develop a solution, you can test some early concepts and prototypes with your target audience to see if they will actually use it.
There are lots of ways to test the appetite for a solution, ranging from storyboards and wireframes through to working prototypes (but with all the behind-the-scenes tasks being carried out manually).
As you build and test different prototypes and mock-ups, you start the transition from problem space to solution space. Ideally you’ll detect encouraging signs of a viable market and be able to press forward, but don’t be too disappointed if you keep finding yourself going ‘back to the drawing board’ or having to do more research into alternative solutions.
This is a continuous learning game and it is only worth investing more time and money developing a solution, if you can make a return on investment.
6 – Can you build it?
The other key consideration is feasibility. You may have found a concept that users respond really well to, but the practicalities of developing it into an actual product could be too difficult for you and your organisation to manage.
Or you may find that you can only fulfil the user need by making a loss, which will be hard to sustain over the long-term. Either way, it’s important to balance the customer need with what is economically feasible to provide.
7 – Will they be able to use it?
Customer/user experience plays a major part in determining whether people will continually use and recommend your solution. People have very high expectations and an app like MyLeanRoutine needs to not only be easy to use, but also pleasurable and rewarding, so that users return to it every day. It also needs to be reliable and have a great support service in case anything does go wrong.
8 – Why will they use it over other alternatives?
Unfortunately just having a great user experience is not enough to set you apart these days. There needs to a unique value proposition that differentiates your solution from the rest. This could be price-based or it could be access to an asset others don’t have (such as premium entertainment content or a big social network).
9 – How will they know about it and how will they access it?
Awareness relates to your marketing and branding activities, while access relates to your distribution activities (e.g. app stores, resellers, e-commerce stores, physical retailers). Often the two are heavily interconnected and this is a very important system to think about.
For example MyLeanRoutine is recommended by personal trainers to their clients. The personal trainers not only get their clients to download the app to their phones, but they also build and personalise the routines for their clients to use and they follow-up with them frequently to ensure accountability.
10 – How will you know if you got it right?
In truth, you’ll never get it fully right and even if you did, you’d never really know for sure. But what you do want to know is whether you are on the right track and what can you do to make things better.
Metrics like revenue and profitability are obvious places to look, but these are ‘lagging indicators’ that happen after the event, which is why savvy organisations also identify one or two ‘leading indicators’ (such as customer satisfaction) that enable them to anticipate future trends and develop faster responses.
Wrapping it all up into a strategy
People tend to think of strategy as a document you write at the beginning, then file away safely in a draw and forget about. But that’s not what strategy is about.
A strategy is a set of coherent actions to negotiate obstacles and achieve a goal. In this case, the goal is the outcome the user is striving for and your strategy is the way you’ll help them do this. Strategy is also an agile, ongoing learning process, where you continually look to adapt your actions to take into account new insights from your progress.
By developing a user-focused strategy, you immediately set yourself apart from the solutions-focused competition and give your product or service a greater chance of success.