I always begin a new startup marketing assignment by looking for any untapped existing demand. Demand harvesting is much easier than demand creation – and it has a faster sales cycle. You don’t have to convince someone they need your category of product, you just need to be easier to find/buy and have a better value proposition than the other guys.
The first question to ask is “where would someone seek my product category?” Twenty years ago the most obvious answer would have been the yellow pages, but today it is Google. A lot of information has been published on getting the most out of SEO or SEM and there are also many experts you can tap in this area. Beyond Google, I’ve found it is helpful to survey existing users for other places they would potentially look. It’s great news when discover healthy demand for your product category.
The next step is to analyze the solutions competing for that demand. The best situation is to discover heavy unmet demand and no competition. That is about as likely as winning the lottery, so don’t count on it. More realistically, there will be a few companies with varying offers competing for that demand. In this case, you should hope for weak execution from these existing competitors. If you can be significantly more effective at extracting money from each prospect, you can afford a more prominent promotion at the initial point of connection and begin capturing market share.
If you discover that the existing competitors are executing well, you’ll have to differentiate your offer with a better value proposition for at least a segment of the existing prospects. This was the situation in my last company. We faced a well entrenched competitor who was harvesting the majority of existing demand and spending millions every month creating new demand. Rather than simply trying to out-execute them (they were extremely efficient), we decided to counter with a free-to-premium offer.
This gave us a high response rate among existing main category searchers but also played into a new trend that had been developing over the last few years. In discovering a new expensive software solution, many prospective customers now check for free alternatives. For this new segment of demand, we quickly became the dominant market player. Once we had these users engaged on the free product, we could patiently upsell various complementary premium services.
Whether competing for existing demand or creating a brand new product category, you’ll eventually have to begin creating demand. This is a much more difficult and unpredictable art that I’ll cover in a future post.