Written by: Skylar Ross
Every ambitious company wants to become as big as Google, Samsung, or Apple. But what many of these small business owners and product managers seem to forget is that even the largest tech giants began focused on a small consumer profile. In fact, in a somewhat surprising fashion, when Apple aired its iconic Superbowl advertisement in 1984. In it, they introduced their Macintosh computer; they weren’t trying to reach football fans. They spoke to a small, minority audience of diehard bookworms who understood the various references to Orwell’s symbolic and revered piece of literature. The references were sprinkled throughout the advertisement.
The approach described above may seem strange to entry-level product managers because Apple focused on a very narrow and select audience with such wide-reaching advertising. However, the route to global appreciation and influence in product management often begins just like this; a clear and focused strategy appealing not to everybody but the smallest viable market.
What is the Smallest Viable Market?
The smallest viable market is the narrowest, most specific audience you can get before your opportunity/cost of promoting what you have to offer becomes irrational. Ideally, they are a group of early adopters that will love and cherish what you are selling before anyone else does. They are the people you have specifically designed your product for, and they will be the ones who tell their friends and family about what they have purchased. Becoming familiar with your niche will pay off big.
Likely, these supporters fall under a “niche” audience that your product either relates to or provides support. For example, in terms of the advertisement previously mentioned, Apple tailored their product to reach audience members in the “niche” field of literature. In some ways, you could also say Apple used a more magnified approach by appealing to an audience that understood the references used were from a particular novel. This understanding that exists between your audience and your product creates strong feelings of connection and commitment. You would be making a mistake if you did not treat these people like family in more ways than one. Check-in with them often and present exclusive offers so that they naturally generate earned media and spread the word.
The founding editor of Wired, Kevin Kelley, has come up with an easy-to-understand way of measuring success when targeting your smallest viable market. He claims that having 1,000 “true fans” is the breaking point of a successful business model. That’s 1,000 people who would preorder an ebook, invest on Kickstarter, or pick up a best-of DVD of your free youtube channel. Your loyal fans will buy whatever you are selling because your offering is designed just for them; and will pay off big.
Balance Your Product Goals
Creating something that the general public craves is the dream for most product managers and marketers. Except, if your product can’t resonate with a select few, how do you expect it to appeal to the masses? It’s critical to have both the smallest viable market and large-scale goals in mind when designing and marketing your product. This balance is a unique challenge facing product managers and marketers. However, once you establish your small dedicated audience, you can increase it exponentially very quickly.
There’s no use in trying to please a global audience when you only have 100 people who would notice if your company disappeared. So, start small and create something special for your loyal fans. It all begins with a winning product. It is critical to keep these goals in mind when designing one. Other characteristics of a winning product like usefulness, appeal, and demand should be kept in mind while trying to infiltrate your smallest viable market. Should another product similar to yours already be on the market, try to appeal to another niche.
Be Patient. Your Audience Will Grow!
At the start of your product roll-out, be incredibly patient. Growing a business and facilitating a genuine audience takes time. At times this required patience can be frustrating and overwhelmingly nerve-wracking. However, if you truly trust your product and the marketing strategy you have begun to implement, you should have minimal worries that you will find your smallest viable market. Then you can start to breathe easier.
Once your followers have started to line up at the door, you’re off to a good start. It’s the beginning of your very own product success story. Focusing on a small audience and pleasing a valuable, tight-knit community will set you up for widely-adopted success down the road. Slowly but surely you come to realize that focusing small can pay off big.
People talk, and if they like what they bought from you, they will most likely bring it up in conversation. Word of mouth is a significant way for companies focused on the smallest viable market that will eventually reach the masses. It takes time, and it’s critical to be patient. But remember, exclusivity is a powerful motivator. Everybody wants to belong to a community. Placing your product in the hands of a select few will have those on the sidelines eventually turn their heads. Their thought becomes, “if those people are enjoying this, maybe I will too.”
Skylar Ross is a contributor at Raincatcher and a blogger, contributes today’s blog post, Do You Realize Focusing Small Can Pay Off Big?