The most crucial, if not the most important factor, in shipping any new product is the Go To Market strategy. In my years of shipping new products, I’ve observed that most failures happen not because of a lack of design, technology or other technical factors, but because no one knows how to bring the product to market.
I have pondered about this for quite some time. It presented itself to me as a dilemma: I’ve seen very well done research about real user needs that get materialized into real products, with robust user research and feedback along the way, only to fail spectacularly when it finally gets released. If market reception is so drastically different from user feedback throughout the development process, what do human-centered design methodologies do?
It became apparent to me much later that the missing piece in the equation that binds everything together is a go to market strategy. User research is different from go to market. User research can and will inform go to markets, but there are fundamental differences. Research methodologies are interested in how users perceive the tech while go to market plans are interested in how to get the tech into users’ hands.
For example, I’ve seen research around social coordination that suggests that there are pain points around social decision making. When we outfit test groups with technology, they become more effective in making said decisions. However, in practice, because it is difficult to get entire networks of people onto the tech platform, as useful as the technology can be, it never achieved anywhere near its potential. In other words, technology that requires network effects require a go to market that can produce that network effect. Without the ability to create the preconditions that can make the product successful, any amount of effort thrown at the problem after will not alleviate this obvious shortcoming.
Thus, it is not just important to have a go to market plan early in the process, it is also important to test the plan. A lot of literature around startup creation, such as lean startup, when stripped off of the specificity, boils down to having go to market embedded into the early product development and feedback cycle. It is important to validate that the market being identified is receptive to the new product. More importantly, validate that the market can perceive the new product and has the capacity to absorb it.
I’ll go one step further and say that it’s not just important to have the go to market plan be part of a new product development strategy, the go to market plan needs to spearhead the entire strategy! Technology adoption is expensive for the recipient on multiple levels, and at a basic level this includes not just monetary costs of deployment but also training and disruption to existing behaviors and workflows. As most new product plans are at best guesses to what forms of technology can best solve the users problems, it is important that they can be put through their paces and see if it actually produces tangible results.
If we shipped a technology and there are no users, did we actually ship anything?