It's been said again and again, both on this blog and elsewhere, that the only surefire way to successfully launch a new product or brand is to listen to what customers say they need and then give it to them. No matter how innovative the product, it won't sell unless it addresses a need in the market. As an addendum to my recent posts about market research, I'd like to talk about what comes immediately after. Once we have proof of concept and a working prototype has been developed, we get to interact with potential customers on a less theoretical level, and they still have a lot to teach us.
What types of customers are these? What role do they play in our product's ongoing development? How can we utilize their feedback? All of these are questions that business owners have asked, and we have the answers.
Our initial customers play a much different (and more important) role than our customers five years down the road. Your product at its early stages, known by many as the “MVP” (minimum viable product), still has the ability to respond to feedback from early adopters. Two distinct types of early adopters exist, and each play an important role.
Bow Wave Customers
Your very first customers can be termed your “bow wave” customers. A bow wave is the term used to described the v-shaped ripples that form at the head of a boat or a swimmer as they move through the water. Much like these waves, your bow wave customers exist to shed light on the direction your product is headed. These are the early users that will help make the product or service more effective while simultaneously helping center its focus at solving a real problem. This is the first step in refining your product and making it a sustainable reality. Alexandria Ingham, writing in Decoded Science, explains,
“All businesses need to carry out alpha-testing, whether they develop software development or create new websites. Projects simply need to work the way that the customer has ordered, and must run smoothly, without bugs blocking features or causing data loss or corruption.”
While Ingham's example is directed mainly at tech startups, every product launch benefits from alpha testers. Bow wave customers provide the first and arguably most important feedback that will help you alter and fix any inefficiencies that exist. The ripples they send out will let you know when they're encountering inefficiencies, which features they use or don't use, or whether your user interface makes sense. Alpha testing lets you encounter these hiccups in a controlled setting, where you can react quickly and target the fixes that have the most impact for your customers.
Chris Bank, the Growth Lead at UXPin, writes in an article for TheNextWeb that using bow wave testers,
“…allow(s) for greater interaction with customers at this crucial stage when you’re designing the product. Observing actual customers first-hand is always more useful than a hypothetical customer survey, and it’s the fastest way to discover whether it’s solving a real-world customer problem.”
This bow wave stage of product testing is the perfect time to diagnose potential issues and implement pivots and alterations. Bow wave users clue you in to the hiccups that could be fatal on the open market and ensure that your product is providing a necessary service that solves a real problem.
After you feel you have a product that successfully fills a serious need in today's market, you are ready for your initial launch. Here is where your launch customers come into play. It is these customers who help polish the products that were created with your bow wave customer's feedback in mind. It is the launch customer's role to provide feedback not only about the product, but about the marketing and sales strategies as well.
Is your product priced too high or too low? Are you marketing to the wrong market segment? While your development team might have (after many alterations) created a viable product, it does not mean you are ready for immediate takeoff. Michael Shoppel and Phillip Davis explain in “Five Secrets Of A Successful Launch,”
“While product teams are in many cases well prepared to manage the complexity of developing products, they are typically untrained, unequipped and unprepared for simultaneously managing customer feedback. Successfully validating your product with feedback from your target market will maximize market acceptance and minimize post launch costs.”
You see, your work isn't over once your product hits the shelves. Feedback from retailers and customers alike will help you adjust your advertising, social media marketing, and other aspects of your approach to the market. Once your product proves viable to this second set of customers, you'll see sales pick up and your product will be well and truly launched.
Whether you are launching the next great tech startup or a newer, more exciting version of the toaster, bow wave and launch customers will prove vital to the success of your new product or service. These groups of customers play different and important roles in defining your product and ensuring its success on the market. However, while they provide different targeted insight, one thing about them is similar: without their feedback, your product will launch on a shaky foundation.
How have Bow Wave and Launch customers impacted your own product launch? Tweet your feedback @EidsonPartners!