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Marketing as Product: The Power of Imagined Solutions

A discussion on how marketer's in startups must align their desires for growth with a focus on product development. There are a number of strategies for doing this, and they will likely take the business in some interesting directions.

My last article focused on the marketer's first task, which is to validate the existence of a problem worth solving for an emerging startup. In this article, I will move on to the marketer's next role, which is to begin growing an audience for the startup, whilst continuing to test, both for the existence of a problem and for the nature of a potential solution.

At this stage, a true understanding of the problem remains uncertain and any proposed solutions are merely imagined solutions. They are ideas or avenues for potential growth that are yet to be built or perhaps even planned. Nonetheless, despite the early stage the business finds itself out, to truly validate the potential of a business idea, both to the founders and to potential investors, a genuine interest in the offering from a prospective audience must be established.

This is because, despite what anyone will tell you in interviews or user tests, the best way to truly validate the existence of a problem is to see whether people will pay for a solution and use it in practice. In surveys and interviews, individuals and companies will often tell you they'd pay 'X' for 'Y' or 'Z' solution. However, when push comes to shove, economic decisions are much more complicated. People spend money in a very different way to how they think or say they spend it. It only takes looking at your own bank statement to be surprised in this regard.

Because of this, the best thing you can do is set your product live and see the response.

The intention, here, should not be focused merely on revenue growth, but instead on using this information to inform your product direction. Indeed, one of the other benefits of attracting people to your product or service, even if it is not yet ready, is that it provides more opportunities to interview, survey, and understand your audience.

People like to feel a part of something exciting and also to feel like they have insider access to something exclusive. You can use this to your benefit when trying to understand your audience better. Try to arrange calls with anyone who shows interest in your offering. The fact they're engaging with you at such an early stage highlights they're interested in the future solution you are working towards - and are likely to be enthusiastic about helping you in some way.

And if you are struggling to arrange calls or achieve the desired number of survey results, there are a number of things you can do. In exchange for an interview or call, why not offer prospective users the chance to beta test new features, or offer to build them a platform or service to suit their needs specifically, or even gift them with free usage when you do launch.

Another thing I'd recommend implementing is a mandatory 'onboarding' process. This involves provisional calls required for users to access your product and service. When we implemented mandatory onboarding at Genei, it allowed us to demonstrate our offering to interested individuals, and also to discuss their problems, their use cases, and personal preferences. There are several benefits to mandatory onboarding and it's a process I highly recommend for a variety of different reasons. I'm going to speak about the benefits of mandatory onboarding and how to implement it more in my next post.

However, before we're even gifted the opportunity to speak to these potentially interested users, there is a big question that needs to be addressed: How exactly do we market a product and gather users for a product or service that doesn't yet exist - and indeed is a product or service which is highly likely to change drastically as we progress?

The answer is to remain highly dynamic, and always responsive to the feedback of your audience. Use your marketing as a means of understanding the problem in more detail, and analyse your audience's response to different potential solutions. You do not need to focus on immediate revenue growth but think about future potential revenue. What makes your audience most excited? Where do you sense the greatest opportunity lies?

See which messaging and which imagined solutions gather the most interest. This is quite easy to measure in ad accounts, be that through clicks or conversions. Even though you don't yet have something to sell, gathering an email waiting list is a sign that people are interested in what you have to offer.

At this point, I should probably note that when I mention 'imagined solutions' I do not mean ideas or empty promises pulled out of thin air. Anyone and everyone will be interested in a too-good-to-be-true fix for all their problems. You are merely wasting money and energy if you advertise solutions you have no chance of ever building. Rather, the imagined solutions you present should be the result of work and investigations into the product. They should be based on your user interviews, your vision, your market positioning, and the rest. What I mean by imagined solutions is features or functionality that are not yet existence - but which could, and may well might, be brought to life.

But back to the testing itself, how can we use imagined solutions to test our product ideas? Here's an example, using Genei as a case study:

Let's say from speaking to users you have identified 3 potential problems and solutions, all related to the core problem you're trying to solve.
In the case of Genei, these might be:

Problem: I struggle to find high-quality articles related to my area of research easily

Solution: Genei provides an AI-generated database to quickly point you in the direction of the highest quality sources

Problem: I struggle to finish all my required reading in the time allotted

Solution: Genei's AI-powered summarisation helps you to finish your reading list faster

Problem: I waste so much time trying to find where relevant notes are stored and which articles the notes relate to

Solution: In Genei, your notes are always linked to relevant sections of your document for seamless recall and maximum efficiency.

Using this information, I can quite easily transform these problems and solutions into marketing copy and creatives for ads.

And although none of these solutions/features may yet be in production, let alone be finished products, by using them in ads, I can test how our prospective audience will respond to them.

Using Facebook's business manager, for example, I can target ads with different messaging towards a set audience and evaluate which they respond best to. Even if I don't yet have a finished product, a landing page with an email box can be used to gather leads (which are always cheaper than fully converted users) who may go on to become paying users when Genei's full product does eventually launch. Understanding which messaging converts best provides not only useful information for marketing but for product, as well.

In essence, by using this method, I am able to present variations of a problem and multiple imagined solutions to simultaneously test potential product direction whilst generating traffic, building interest, and beginning to grow an audience for my product. As the saying goes - two birds with one stone.

Seeing which problems and solutions resonate with the largest number of people can help to inform the direction in which the greatest amount of revenue growth can be achieved. Though not exhaustive, this information enables marketing to perform useful investigative tasks at a time when the focus is, and should be, centred around product development.

By presenting 'imagined solutions', marketers and founders can better understand the problems and solutions that resonate most powerfully with their audience... and use that information to help build a better and more desirable product.

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