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Perhaps you are familiar with the term often thrown around by business strategists and consultants called “market driven.” It describes the principle of giving your customers what they want instead of expecting them to buy what you want them to. Of course, in that comparison being a “market driven” business is certainly better than being a “delusional” business. However, there are two strategies which have proven to work even better.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford
The problem with being “market driven” is that the market doesn’t really know what it wants, or really needs. When businesses think it terms of what people want, they tend to serve the lowest common denominator and do nothing to help humanity progress forward. The most successful businesses give people what they never knew they wanted, but now can’t live without.
The entrepreneurs that achieve this are very few, and you probably are well aware of them. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Thomas Crapper, and whoever made Wonder Bread. Up until they introduced their products to market, we never knew we needed them, we didn’t ask for them, and now we can’t live without them.
So how do you get insight into your market? Well, you have it or you don’t. If you don’t, best be honest with yourself now. If you think you are going to be the next Steve Jobs without a deep keen understanding of your customers to the point where you can anticipate their needs, then you need to find another strategy. Insight can’t be bought (but it can be invested in).
If you lack insight, this is your best bet. Thomas Edison was probably the first to try this approach. Google has been the biggest champion of this strategy as of late. Market sourced is kind of like throwing spaghetti against the wall, but the wall is your market and the spaghetti is your market’s own ideas.
Google has launched and killed more projects than you can shake a stick at. Remember Google Wave, Google Notebook, Google Reader, or Google Hygiene? (OK, I made up that last one.) Google says “yes” quickly and “no” decisively. Google makes it easy for the early adopters and engaged segment of their market to help develop projects through community leadership.
Market sourced means you develop a responsive cycle of listening, testing, and responding to your market. Launch less-than-perfect products to an organized and engaged segment of your market, see if it takes off, listen to feedback, adjust as needed. Products are not so much invented as they are discovered.
You Could Just Be Competent
Of course all these strategies are options businesses take when they are finding demand wane, or are looking to grow into new markets. When in doubt you could just do something “in demand” better than everyone else.