The best ideas for your product are the result of refining your vision with input from customers.
To truly connect with the right market, you need to understand the contexts in which individuals will use your product, and what they are willing to give (money, time, etc.) to receive the benefits of your product.
To do so, you need to be in a mode of continuous learning.
Get Beyond Opinions to Actual Behaviors
In order to really know if your concept or product is hitting the mark, you need to observe what customers do, not just what they say. Understanding their contexts, emotional states, and lived experience inclusive of your product is incredibly helpful.
You can begin to answer whether your solution solves their problem with prototypes of varying degrees of sophistication. This allows you to affordably learn, reduce risk, and prioritize the features (and corresponding value propositions) your product provides.
In addition to learning more about the conditions in which your customers will engage with your product, the act of creating these tests and prototypes will further help the entire team clarify their thinking, and uncover what needs to be true to successfully launch an MVP.
You Can’t Afford to Build a Digital Product and Hope Customers Come
Digital product development is a massive investment in time, money, energy, and even the future of your company.
The mindset and methods of continuous learning and refinement are crucial, because resources are limited. You only have so much time, money, influence, and relational capital; most new products fail because they consume these resources without learning enough about what will connect real customer problems to the right solution. When we talk about ROI, you need affordable, effective ways to mitigate risk now, and avoid potential failure later.
Relative to the overall cost, these methods are quick and reliable. Each provides more confidence as you get closer to launch. At each stage, you have an opportunity to validate, refine, and revise your vision based on information you gather from customers.
And again, it’s about understanding customers’ and users’ behavior: it’s not about what they say but what they do. Sentiment is important, but actions much more so.
Let’s take a closer look at why these steps are important and how they are a reliable way to predict whether customers will buy, and how they will use, your digital product.
Simple Steps to Gauge Customer Engagement
Here are some key ways to get a firm grasp on whether, how, and how often your customers are likely to use your digital product.
1. Clarify the problems you are solving via jobs & journeys
Don’t start development until you know what your product is supposed to address. Is it solving a business problem? A pain point? How do users feel about that problem? Is it big enough to justify developing a product specifically to solve it?
By mapping the journey of your customers with them, you’ll uncover unmet & undermet needs they have, and the jobs to be done they are trying to accomplish. Start with hypotheses about the problems they have, and where your product fits into their lives; illustrate the experience of solving those problems via lived narratives with them; and identify the implicit or explicit moments when they are using a competitor’s product, or hacking their own solutions.
Clarifying these needs & jobs along their journeys is an extremely helpful lens for grounding where your product can make a difference, disrupt the status quo, and find engagement.
2. Create a conversion page or brochure prototypes.
You can test your digital product’s value propositions and audience potential with webpage or digital brochure prototypes, describing your product benefits and unique features. Put them in the market via social media with beta offers or newsletter sign-ups. High-level concepts are all that is needed to get meaningful reactions and results as to the desirability of your product’s essential offering.
This helps you measure interest and begin collecting high-value, first-mover potential customers that can provide an ongoing feedback source as well as eventual buyers.
3. Design paper prototypes and simple wireframes.
As you gain clarity around your product based on your research thus far, start designing some early versions with paper prototypes and wireframes. These can be very simple to produce, as long as the key moments and touchpoints they are meant to represent are understood.
Engage with a small group of potential customers individually to observe how they interact with the mockups. Don’t just ask for their impressions; record their actions and use those moments to further confirm or refine your digital product’s direction. Look for hints that they would be willing to switch to this hypothetical solution from whatever is solving similar problems for them today, and be open to any reluctance or questions they have about its applicability for them.
4. Build clickable or interactive prototypes.
Now you can start to test the intuitiveness of your product. Clickable prototypes can include a basic UX along with likely features, to scaffold the essential flow and cadence of use. Rapid, code-based prototypes can further demonstrate the effectiveness of more sophisticated features, which need some demonstrated usage to get the solution right before creating something scalable.
Such interactive prototypes can test real user behaviors that signal how future customers will be able to make use of your full product. You don’t have to include every eventual bell or whistle, but your test group should clearly understand how your product works, how they would interact with it, and if & when it would be useful in the context of real life.
Conduct quantitative analysis.
At this point, you should have a reasonable measure of confidence that what you’re building has value and a degree of marketability.
With a quantitative analysis, you can further increase your confidence in factors like feature priority, pricing elasticity, and customers’ propensity to purchase, to validate product-market fit. This information can also help determine whether there are segmentation opportunities where you might consider offering different versions of your product, or different offer or pricing structures.
Follow Your Customers’ Lead
It’s critical to incorporate continuous learning when bringing a product to market. Even the best ideas will fail if they are not aligned with what customers need and are willing to pay for. By conducting early research to validate the problem and market, refine ideas, and design and test prototypes of various fidelity, your confidence will grow as your product gets closer to being real.
And one final bonus: This approach has the added benefit of aligning your team internally through continuous, customer-driven evidence, supporting refinement of your vision, boosting buy-in, and reducing friction, especially during the critical development phase.