This article by Guy Blaskey was originally published by the London Evening Standard
If we knew what products were going to be huge successes and which were going to be total flops before we spent money on them it would make business life a whole easier. It’s difficult to predict the future, but there are some things that you can try.
First, some things that are not worth trying:
1) Astrology: Look at your friends on Facebook who have the same birthdays. Are they in anyway similar to each other? I guess that the answer is no. That is because astrology is not a good way to predict anything.=
2) Asking friends and family: Friends and family will tell you what you want to hear. They want to encourage you and will see the positives in anything. Whilst this is encouraging, it is not great feedback. It is arguably worse than astrology, because even though astrology is likely to be wrong, it’s not biased, and there’s a chance it could be right… a stopped clock is right twice a day!
3) Focus groups; People in focus groups will either tell you what you want to hear, or what they think makes them look good to other people in the group. There has been a lot of work in the field of behavioural economics, which essentially proves that people don’t act the way that they say they are going to act, so save your time and money.
What you can do depends on what you are selling and where you are planning on selling it.
Online; If you have a product or service that you are planning on selling online then you need to see if people are likely to buy it online. Set up a quick website, using something like WordPress and offer your product (or service) for sale. If you can make a small run of products, sell them (even if it’s at a loss), if you can’t make a small run, you can have a “sorry this product is no longer in stock” message. The key is to be able to define a ‘conversion’, someone who would have parted with their money, if the product were available. Using google AdWords you can both drive traffic to the site and monitor conversions. This will tell you empirically if your product will sell or not.
Shops; You could do an offline version of the method above by making mock-ups of your product and sticking them on the shelf in a shop, preferably with the shop’s permission. Then stand back and see what happens. Are people drawn to your product? Do they pick it up and try to buy it? If someone does pick it up, ask them what they liked about it… and explain that it is a mock-up and they can’t actually buy it. This way you get great feedback as well as seeing if people will buy.
Crowdfunding; Sites like Kickstarter are not just ways to raise money for your idea, they are also a great way to see if people will buy what you want to make. If you put a product on Kickstarter and it gets a load of backers, who are all essentially paying for the product, you can be pretty sure that there are a load more people out there who will buy the product when you launch it. If no one backs your project on Kickstarter, there’s a good chance you are going to struggle to sell your product in it’s current format if you do launch it, but you will hopefully get some feedback about how you could improve it.