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You’ve got a great idea forming and you can’t wait to watch it grow. But before you get too far along in the development phase, you’ll want to spend some time and energy validating your idea, and by extension, the market.

Now, as a creative person, the prospect of doing market research may not be super exciting. But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that it’s critical to avoid falling victim to your assumptions which could lead to two undesirable outcomes. One, you go full-blast on building something that doesn’t meet what your target wants or needs. Or two, you don’t pursue your idea because it seems too far-fetched or outrageous, and in all honesty, too damn hard. By validating the market, you are building credibility for your product or service and confirming that there is an interest or need for what you plan to offer. 

One of the first things to do when you validate the market is to look for existing competitors. Believe it or not, existing competitors are a good sign. It means there is an existing need in the market and businesses are working to fill it. 

Start with a Google search to see what is out there. Put yourself in the position of your ideal customer and search as though you are looking for a solution. Doing this provides an idea of what already exists, who your competitors are, and how they position themselves in the market. It will also uncover trends and existing gaps that present opportunities to you as an emerging business. If you want to take it a step further, do some mystery shopping and visit your competition directly. Gain a sense of their customer service, their touchpoints, and their unique identifier. Getting up close and personal with your competition helps you understand what they offer, but more importantly, what they don’t offer so that you can differentiate yourself.

Remember the intent behind the market research, and specifically, the competitor research is to validate your idea and find a gap that fills a need. You want to meet your customers in a way they haven’t experienced before that up-levels your offering just enough to make you the go-to for them. And, more importantly, it validates you have something of value to bring to market. 

Related to building your competitor database, you want to make sure your offer is desirable and people are looking for what you plan to offer. The easiest way to do this is by joining online spaces where your ideal customer hangs out and dig into the conversations they are having with one another. Top priority spaces include up-to-date online forums, discussion boards, and social media groups that relate to your idea. Read the comments and responses to see what people’s pain points are and any recommendations or referrals they receive.

Blogs and articles are also great ways to familiarize yourself with what people are looking for. Pay special attention to the comments and responses because this is where you’ll get honest reactions, feedback, and questions from people looking for a solution to their problems. You’ll get a front-row seat to what people are asking about, what they are thankful for, and what they feel is lacking in relation to their needs or the problem they are hoping to solve. 

You can see the trend here that target customer feedback and perspective are real drivers of market validation. So it should come as no surprise that another great way to validate the value of your product or service offering is to have direct conversations with people who fit the profile of your ideal customers and use their feedback to refine your product or service.  Let them tell you in their own words exactly what they’re looking for, what their obstacles have been, and any frustrations they’ve had with other offerings in the marketplace. Everyone will have a different response, but in my experience, trends will emerge that help you build your particular product or service in a way that meets a need and fills a current gap in the market. 

If you don’t have anyone in your network that fits your ideal customer profile, reach out to your network and ask for referrals. You never know who might be able to introduce you to someone who fits your target profile and would be willing to have a conversation with you. And remember this is not a sales pitch. You are conducting research not trying to make sales,  and nothing will turn someone off faster than if they think they’re going to get on a call with someone that has an ulterior motive. Make sure you are clear that you want to have a conversation to help you develop your idea, nothing more nothing less. Be authentic and genuinely curious. Welcome their feedback and ideas. And more than anything, listen to the pain points and frustration related to their needs and the existing market landscape. After the conversation, genuinely thank them for their time and, if possible, offer a small token of your gratitude. 

Market validation is an important component of your product or service development and your business strategy overall.  Not only are you getting critical feedback, but you’re also gaining traction and awareness as you create something of value for your target customers, and the confidence that you’re on, or soon will be, on the right track.

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