One that stands out to me, in particular, is Ries’ statement that “strategy is based on assumptions.”
“Every business plan begins with a set of assumptions. It lays out a strategy that takes those assumptions as a given and proceeds to show how to achieve the company’s vision. Because the assumptions haven’t proved to be true (they are assumptions, after all) and in fact are often erroneous, the goal of a startup’s early efforts should be to test them as quickly as possible.”
This passage resonates with me as it efficiently summarises the challenge of planning in the very early days of business. You need to repeatedly test your underlying assumptions until you understand which are correct, and which need updating.
This should be more than a one-off process, as you need to repeat this process whenever you are planning to offer a new product or service.
It is our nature to take half-remembered experiences and turn them into assumptions or guesses. We often fail to undertake the appropriate testing and questioning that is required to make business decisions based on more than just subjective opinions.
I see this assumption-checking as a core function of marketing. We, as marketers and business owners, need to understand our audience as well as we possibly can. We need to do this if we want to successfully generate results. We need to test both the businesses and our very own marketing assumptions.
So what assumptions should we all be testing? I would love to see us all test very basics of our product ideas and strategy, such as:
- Is there an actual need for the product in the market you wish to serve?
- Is anyone within the target audience excited about the product or is it just you?
- Does the product serve a real-life pain point or problem that the intended audience has?
- Is the audience you want to service large enough to sustain a business with the revenue you want?
- How much is your intended audience actually willing to pay for your product/service?
- Where does the value you see in your product and your audience sees in it overlap?
Testing these assumptions may seem hard, especially in the early days of a business when there is little budget and many things are competing for your attention. But it’s not. It’s simple. You need to get out there and talk to the people you wish to sell your products and services to.
I often think this is the biggest challenge of modern-day marketers. We generally work on devices behind the scenes, tucked away from customers. Because of this, I suspect we have developed a fear of actually getting out there and talking to the people we’re trying to help.
You can, of course, use a variety of digital tools and conduct digital surveys if you have an appropriate list and the relevant permissions. This includes products such as Google Forms, MailChimp and other platforms, but nothing beats a face to face conversation where you can see body language as well as hear the response.
It’s one of the greatest challenges of digital marketing. As marketers, we need to get out from behind our screens and interact with people on a 1:1 basis to truly understand how we can help them. But most of us spend time doing anything but this.
It’s this in-depth audience understanding that enables us to market effectively.
If you haven’t already, take the time to read The Lean Startup. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can also take a look at the other books I recommend in our article on the best marketing books, which we keep regularly updated.