Product-market fit is a concept commonly used in the startup world. As the name of the concept suggests, it is used to evaluate how well a product fits its target market. Branding is an excellent tool to maximize the chances of early-stage business success and secure a good product-market fit from the beginning. This article will break down why it is so important to listen to target customers and develop a positioning, product presentation, and brand personality that fits the expectations of potential customers.
First-time entrepreneurs and founders seem to believe that they have developed the next best thing after sliced bread, and customers will be standing in queues to buy their products or services. Statistics show a completely different story.
The grim reality is that over 42% of startups fail because the market does need their product. 19% get crushed by the competition, and in 17% of the cases, the product is poorly done. 14% fail because of poor marketing, and another 14% run out of business because they don’t listen to their customers. There are various primary and secondary reasons behind a company going south. The above stats reflect the self-declared primary reasons.
Potential customers typically ask 5 questions before deciding about a purchase:
- Do I need it?
- What will it do for me?
- Does the value outweigh the cost?
- Are there better alternatives?
- Is this a reliable and trustworthy company?
In fashion, lifestyle and social related purchases, they also ask: does associating myself with this brand make me look good?
If you look back to the failure reasons, you will notice that those are strongly related to these questions. This indicates that behind startup failures, there is the inability to convince potential customers that the product is useful, good enough, or even relevant.
Craft a meaningful first impression that gets attention for the right reasons
It is important to realize that people typically develop an opinion about a brand within seconds, based on very little information. Communicating information that does not answer their primary questions or triggers a strong emotional connection, will dramatically reduce the chances of raising interest.
On a positive note, understanding customer requirements will enable us to craft messages that address actual customer needs — and will encourage them to explore the product or service further. Practically, this will mean creating landing page content, creating informative headlines, and few-sentence explainers that will enable everyone to understand how your products work and what benefits they offer.
There are various ways to research and assess customer needs, such as participating in community conversations, using social listening tools, or conducting market research from time to time. There are modern and cost-efficient tools and brand audit companies to conduct such research.
To check if your first impression experience is good enough to get the attention of your target customers, the best is to run a customer perception analysis campaign or doing a brand audit that is based on the feedback of potential customers.
According to our data at Brand Auditor, based on 300+ audits, first-time viewers who clearly understood the product and its benefits are almost 190% more likely to consider a purchase or recommend the company to someone else. This is huge, not to be overlooked.
Developing the correct positioning of your brand
Once you managed to get the attention of your first-time viewers, your marketing communication will need to be able to position what your company is all about, what it does, what it does not do, and what makes it different from competing brands?
The most common positioning problem is when the consumer becomes confused about the meaning of a brand. Consumers stay away from brands that they don’t understand, so being in a “black hole” means that sales will decline or the product will fail completely. What brands need is a straightforward core benefit proposition that tells a consumer what the brand means.
Brand positioning is happening in the mind of the potential customers, based on the information you communicate to them on various communication channels. In the online space, this largely refers to your website, social media pages, reviews, and various media mentions.
Few examples of clear, and unclear brand positioning
Mercedes Benz established its reputation as a prestige car company back in the 1930s and 1940s when they shipped vehicles for high-profile politicians and dictators all over the world. Till the late 90s, owning a Mercedes was a status symbol. Starting from that era, Mercedes decided to diversify and enter lower-end markets with their A-class and C-class models. While it was commercially successful, the brand suffered so much that they needed to launch a high-end brand “Maybach” to remain relevant in the luxury car market.
This was the time when Rolls Royce and Bentley ultimately took over the high-end luxury sedan market, pushing down the S-class Mercedes to the consumer segment. From the 2000s, lower-end Mercedes models are known to be unreliable and overly expensive to fix, which reduced the once prestigious brand to the level of consumer cars. In this market, buyers expected high reliability from the famous brand.
Mercedes failed to compete in the consumer segment, where Toyota proved to be significantly more reliable and cost-efficient.
BMW developed its reputation as a performance and driver-first car company, offering a clearly differentiated alternative to Mercedes Benz. They stayed loyal to their original positioning and it has worked well for almost a century.
Kyocera is a Japanese tech company, manufacturing a variety of devices from printers to solar panels. In Europe, most consumers know them for their rugged mobile phones sold on Chinese e-commerce websites such as AliExpress and Wish, often at a low price point competing with ZTE or Blackview. Those who were new to the brand have developed an impression that Kyocera is a low-quality Chinese brand.
Some examples from my career
Back in 2015 when I started my consulting practice, most older management consultants were super serious, uptight and they were against rapid technological changes. When developing my personal brand and consulting proposition, my key offerings were focused on support in embracing technology and friendly, helpful service. This became so successful that I started getting referrals on a weekly basis, even today when I moved on to do something else.
I was not this lucky with my new company Brand Auditor. At first, people have mistaken it for a traditional brand consulting service. We adjusted the messaging to tackle this, then new viewers started to think that it is another social listening tool. We had a hard time developing the positioning as the concept of customer perception analysis is quite new at this price point.
Coca-Cola, one of the most valuable brands in the world, managed to mess it up too! A campaign of commercials showing mean-spirited people was so bad that Coke had to halt the ads and field angry calls from consumers and their own bottlers. One ad showed a young man returning to his parent’s farm home after military service, the parents anxiously waiting on their porch, only to have him turn around and leave after they said they had no Coke. This surely leaves a feeling — but it’s not warm and fuzzy. According to The Wall Street Journal, Coke “paid dearly for its … uneven marketing.”
Coca-Cola executives breathlessly announced a new ad campaign (designed to repair the damage from the earlier campaign) with a multimillion-dollar budget and the slogan “Life Tastes Good.” Despite the obvious fact that this slogan bears no relationship to any discernible core benefit proposition, Coke went ahead with the campaign anyway. Soon The Wall Street Journal reported that Coke’s Chief Marketing Officer said: “the company is abandoning global ad campaigns after it’s big ‘Life Tastes Good’ campaign for Coca-Cola didn’t pan out.” “Life Tastes Good” meant nothing, and consumers knew it.
In a nutshell, your marketing communications needs to provide clear and concise information that will build up the desired positioning in the mind of the customers. To achieve this, first, you need to define who you want to be on the market, what you want to be known for, and what you don’t want to be confused with.
Communicate benefits and confidence instead of features
From the first second a new viewer sees your website or gets exposed to your marketing, they will want to see how your stuff proposition will benefit them. Failing to communicate relevant benefits will make your viewers uninterested, they will develop a neutral or negative first impression and will ignore your brand in the future.
Furthermore, people will subconsciously try to evaluate how credible and reliable your brand is. They do not need to read reviews to sense low value and notice desperation.
Stop beating around the bush and trying to clickbait people, or offering surreal discounts for basic interactions such as leaving their email address. They will immediately know that you are desperate for business which leads to further conclusions, such as your company is not well established, your support is not consistent, and further thoughts commonly associated with unreliable businesses.
A clear and efficient marketing communication consists of demonstrating benefits, competence, and a positive brand image that customers will be proud to be associated with. A typical set of benefits customers will welcome is the following:
- The product helps to solve a problem
- The solution will unlock a set of secondary benefits
- The product is compatible with existing systems or products
- Using the product will not require sacrifices
- Onboarding will not take significant time
- The brand is good to be associated with
Plan and execute your brand and marketing strategy based on data and facts – not individual opinions
Optimizing for a better product-market fit will require reliable, feedback-based insights from your target audience. Developing a viable initial concept can save significant time and money compared to live experimentations based on trials and error — as that approach can result in irreversible damages.
Revealing weaknesses is the first step to making meaningful improvements, and doing it without putting your brand reputation at risk is by doing regular customer perception analysis audits. In such audits, potential customers will be able to provide ratings and comments regarding various aspects of your brand and marketing communications.
Here is a set of examples and brand audit-related templates.
Such audits can reveal all the important information you will need, including:
- What first impression your brand makes?
- How clear are your positioning and differentiation?
- If the benefits you offer are relevant to their problems?
- How informative are your product descriptions?
- How attractive is your pricing?
The internet is full of content to boost entrepreneurial confidence, courses that satisfyingly simplify the concept of building a business. Naturally, people trying to launch a business will embrace positivity, becoming overly confident, and do not feel the importance of getting regular reality checks to see if their development is actually in line with market needs and expectations.
Do not fall into this trap, keep as close to your audience as possible and listen to their feedback.