Which comes first the customer or the product?

Which comes first the customer or the product?

It’s the same circular argument as the chicken and the egg. But the truth is which comes first, the customer or the product really breaks down into how much money do you have? If you have enough money, you create a market and probably demand for an unknown product. But the converse, developing a product that already has a customer base or demand is far cheaper.

The simplest path, create something people already want

The Kickstarter phenomena should demonstrate it’s smart to start with a group of consumers that are willing to pay for your product - even before it exists. It allows you to gauge the level of interest and gain funding while you’re developing your product. So obviously, creating a product directly for people ready to buy it is always a good first choice.

The downside you’re probably not the first or the only one who will recognize the opportunity. And even if you are the first you certainly won’t be the last as new competitors will rapidly appear. Unless of course you’ve protected yourself with patents, copyrights, and/or trademarks. But even then you’re not totally safe as international competitors can appear before you’re large enough to protect yourself worldwide - or worse counterfeiters will appear.

Create something people didn’t know they wanted

Or if you’re one of the rare geniuses and you have the passion you can create a product so brilliant, so revolutionary, people didn’t realize they needed it. The perfect example here is Apple. Time and time again they’ve created new categories of products so astounding they’re instant hits - even when people didn’t even know they needed the new thing they’re introducing.

Of course striking gold with a one-in-the-million product isn’t easy. And to do it more than once is almost unfathomable. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Get a big budget so you can build demand the hard way

And finally, if you want to take the hard road, which sometimes is unavoidable, you can create a new product or product category. This allows you to create the demand, but it requires a larger investment in time and money. You’ll need to cycle your product and/or category through product introduction, education, adoption, and then finally wide acceptance. It can be a long and costly process that’s fraught with peril and failure. Sure, creating your own category and product can allow you to be first and to build and control the market. But it doesn’t come cheaply or effortlessly. Many fail before their breakthrough pays off. Or worse they’re out flanked by the competition after the market matures.

So if I had to answer, which comes first the customer or the product, I’d answer with a simple question back, “how much can you spend to find out?” If you can, create a product you know people already want. Or if you have a stroke of brilliance, create that remarkable product they didn’t know they couldn’t live without. And finally, if you have to, create something new and spend the time and effort to introduce it and build a market.

Jan 31, 2014

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