I love doing innovation research and brand development - what does that mean? Well, it's like the work we did when I was lucky enough to create an energy drink that outsold Coke (NZ/Oz), we separated validating the idea, the core product idea from the brand development - they aren't the same thing. I've looked around on-line and I couldn't find much written about how to help digital start ups and I wanted to share my experience. (I"ve worked on lots of digital start-ups.)  One of the challenges start-ups tend to have is they are lean on resources so they can't afford a research agency. 

First, let’s get clear on where most people are at ‘in this space’. The company warehouse gives these figures which, surprisingly, apply to digital start-ups as well.

  • Over 90% do not have any budget allocated for SEO or Social Media Marketing
  • More than 90% do not know what SEO professionals do
  • Less than 5% had an understanding of any ranking factors other than keywords.
  • 49% of start-ups are willing to pay someone to setup social media accounts for them
  • 55% of start-ups are willing to pay to have website content written for them
  • 71% of start-ups are prepared to copy content directly from their competitor’s websites
  • Start-ups are 80% more likely to stay with website and digital marketing packages that include some element of Google Adwords PPC.

Okay so you’ve got a digital start-up idea, perhaps it’s a cost comparison app, a new form of banking, a new angle on dating and you are going for it. Either you’re in an incubator or working from home. There are 5 things you need to understand about research to get an overview and most people don’t tell you this because they just want your business:

  • Early stage co-creative development research – validate the ‘why’ of an idea.
  • Desk research is essential – that’s research that doesn’t cost you much except time – validate the commercial market size.
  • Beta test the demand for your idea – an on-line invitation to receive applications of interest.
  • There are diverse types of need and these different needs require diverse types of research.
  • Market research’s Achilles heel and why you need to be careful.

Let’s start with how you go about doing early stage co-creative research. Now you’ve got to make some assumptions, if you’ve come up with the idea because you’ve found a need that’s not met, that’s good or it could be you’ve spotted a hole in the market. The challenge with both of these is why hasn’t someone already done it? It’s a fundamental question for entrepreneurs, you are either a Genius or the only person around who has that need.

So, this is what I advise early stage idea formation people to do. Go on-line and look for forums or on-line groups who might like your idea and give you some feedback. For example, when we were looking at the high-tech handbag we looked on-line for groups of people who love luxury brands. Now it’s a risk if you ‘let the cat out of the bag’ and present your idea but the bigger risk is not validating it. Now if you are lucky people will be geographically clustered and you can invite them to come along and talk about your idea. If not, you’ll have to go on-line, approach the admin of the group and ask if they will help. There are key things you need to identify at this stage, the key thing is the strength of your basic idea, is there a need for it or not. Don’t at this stage worry about pricing, brand name, communication or anything other than the product itself. You need to ask them what they think of the idea and ask them what they use, now, instead. So, if we were looking at amazon before amazon, people would be using their local bookshop and getting their books sent to them from the shop.

If you can get people together, then you can do early stage co-creation. What does that mean in real terms? It means you get a group of ideally 8 people, all of whom like your idea and ask them:

  • How would they improve it? Be specific, very specific it’s in the detail
  • Use de Bono ideation techniques e.g. Ask them to imagine the idea was going to be done by Apple, Sony, B&O and a range of other companies how would they improve it?
  • Ask them to improve the idea as if they were different professions lawyer, accountant, musician, comedian, web developer or any profession you think will help
  • Where would they expect to see it sold? (This is about understanding the need)
  • What are they doing to fill the need now? (Again, understanding the need)

Now why are you doing this? Put very simply, it’s an acid-test, if you find people can find a lot of ways to improve your idea, then it’s quite likely the idea isn’t fully formed, it maybe on the way but you need to go back to your desk and really think about it some more. 

Once you’ve done this, invite this group of people into an on-line private Facebook, in your mind see them as friends of the business, court them, treat them like valued team members and ask them to respond to your refined idea. Now here’s the trick, you need to keep on going back to them until you’re finding they can’t find any way to improve it. Once you’ve done it write the idea down in normal language, for example ‘the world’s first handbag with built in mobile charger and light’. ‘The world’s first Word of Mouth Marketing course’, if you write it in simple language and people get it you’ve nailed the idea.

Once you’ve done that, you need to do some desk research. I’m going to give you loads of hacks on that but fundamentally the co-creation is about validating the ‘why’ of your idea, desk research is about getting data to help you make some judgements on the commercial size of the idea.

Written by Jake Pearce, jake@jakepearce.com 





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