Dreaming of launching a course or digital product? Our friends at Podia share an easy 4-step process to validate your digital product idea before you launch.
You have an excellent digital product idea. If you could just develop and market it the right way, you know it could change a lot of lives — yours most of all.
However, you don’t have thousands of dollars or months of free time to pour into market research. So just how are you supposed to validate your product idea without breaking the bank?
Easy — use social media.
With just four steps, you can validate your product idea, tailor your idea to your customers’ preferences, and be on your way to creating an irresistible product.
Step #1: Conduct social media market research
Before creating your digital product, conduct market research to learn more about your target audience and their product preferences.
One of the easiest ways to conduct market research is to find where your ideal customers are active online and interact with them.
Note that we didn’t say you need to go on all of the most popular platforms, per se.
Instead, go wherever your audience is the most active and participate in those communities.
If you’re planning to sell online courses about makeup and beauty, for instance, you’d probably find the most success on Instagram, YouTube and Reddit, whereas Twitch may be better if you’re selling something related to gaming.
For learning more about online courses, check out this guide to creating and selling online courses. For familiarizing yourself with each social media platform, these guides to social media marketing, Twitter marketing, Facebook marketing and LinkedIn marketing should help.
After you’ve figured out where you’ll conduct your customer research, your next step is to determine how you’ll gather information — a mix of both data collection and audience interviews usually yields the best results.
For instance, you could join online communities on Reddit or Facebook to see what kind of questions your audience is asking, offer answers and ask a few questions of your own.
Other resources included customer reviews for your competitors. Comments for competitors’ products can be a goldmine of information about your customers’ preferences and how well your competitors are living up to those preferences.
You could also use reviewers’ posting histories to understand what kind of brands they’ve interacted with in the past and how your product idea measures up against their recent product preferences.
Beauty brand Glossier, for instance, got the idea for its Milky Jelly Cleanser after noticing that their followers didn’t include cleansers in their “shelfies”, or pictures of beauty products in their bathroom cupboards.
Lastly, don’t discount the benefit of speaking to your customers face-to-face through video-conferencing so you can seek more targeted feedback.
Once you’ve got your platforms nailed down and your customer research rolling along, it’s time to get in the thick of it and go from observer to active participant.
Step #2: Get active on social media and build trust in your brand
To gain your followers’ trust and loyalty — and eventually, their sales and recommendations — get active on social media.
72% of consumers are likely to recommend a company if they had a positive experience with that brand on social media, so there’s little downside to engaging with your audience.
Just be careful to not be too promotional — the 80/20 rule is good to follow here, with 80% of your posts being informative or engaging and 20% leaning more promotional.
Otherwise, pay attention to what posts get the most likes, shares and comments, as those are a good indicator of what sort of problems your audience is struggling with.
Though it may take a few weeks to see increased site visits and follower counts, interacting with followers can pay off.
Don’t sweat it if your follower count remains rather modest, however — there’s power in small audiences, especially for growing brands.
After you’ve spent time building your reputation, you can start asking more product-related questions and sending out surveys.
Mattress company Tuft & Needle, for instance, credits seeking feedback from online communities — particularly Reddit — as one of the ways they earned their earliest customers.
But, don’t focus solely on product-related questions — it’s not always a great product that drives customers from one brand to another.
86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, so treating your customers well — and more specifically, finding out what being treated well means to them — can help you stand apart from competitors.
Around this stage of product validation, you’ll want to promote a sales page for your yet-unmade product so followers can learn more about your product, join your waitlist or pre-order it.
It may seem counterintuitive to create a sales page for a product that’s not made yet, but rest assured, it’s a common way to validate product ideas.
Dropbox, for example, started as an explainer video and waitlist sign up form. Similarly, entrepreneur Abbey Ashley created a sales page, pre-sold her online course and then released two modules at a time as she received feedback from her customers.
In addition to your sales page, you can use pre-launch marketing strategies like email marketing and influencer marketing to extend the reach of your pre-release efforts.
Does building up your brand’s reputation and credibility on social media take time? Definitely. Is it worth the hustle? Also definitely. There’s no better way to bond with new audience members than to interact with them directly.
And, the more you interact and learn about them at this stage, the better your prototype — which is your third step for validating your product idea — will serve that audience.
Step #3: Analyze your data and create your product prototype
14% of startups fail because they ignore their customers, and 42% fail because there is no market need for their product.
Therefore, don’t glance over your customer data and then dive into product development. Instead, take a few days to analyze trends and follow up with some audience members.
Then, get to creating with those insights in hand.
Don’t worry about making your prototype perfect. Ideally, your prototype should be a pared-down version of your product that you can knock out without a ton of money or time.
The more easily you pivot to add or remove features — your audience will you know which — the better.
Digital product prototypes can take on a few different forms.
You could either give away your test product for free as a lead magnet or free content or you could charge for it.
In the case of an informational product, you could release a few modules on YouTube. YouTube is an especially helpful place to test online course or membership site content. 64% of people have said YouTube is good for learning skills for professional or personal development.
At this point, you’re almost at the end of your product validation journey — but not quite. A week or so after your initial users downloaded or purchased your product, collect more feedback so you can improve it further before releasing the final version.
Step #4: Analyze user feedback and release your product again
The point of a product prototype is to test your assumptions and beliefs about your audience, so don’t sweat it if you received negative feedback from the first iteration.
Feedback simply means you have guidance on how to create a better product in the future.
Take a few days to analyze the critiques from the first round of your product prototype, then consider which of the recommended changes you should implement or which were most in-demand.
Once your test product has been altered, you’re ready to re-release it for further feedback.
To both expand your user base and grow your sales, consider implementing a referral or affiliate program so your early customers will be encouraged to recommend your product to others.
So incentivizing and rewarding your customers for making recommendations is definitely a viable, and in the entrepreneur sphere, popular strategy.
One way to encourage referred customers to make a purchase is to offer an exclusive discount or promotion.
94% of consumers have said they would take advantage of an exclusive offer over other popular retail programs, so offering exclusive offers or discounts could be one way to both attract more early customers and prototype-testers.
As your audience grows and you get further feedback, you’ll get closer and closer to a final product your customers will love.
And after that? Then it’s time to release your product and let the sales come in.
Research and community are vital to validating your idea
You could spend thousands of dollars running complex customer research studies — or you could use social media to validate your digital product idea in just a few weeks.
The first step in validating your idea is to figure out where you’ll interact with your target audience and how you’ll survey them.
Next, spend a few weeks building relationships with your followers before seeking guidance and feedback.
Once you learn more about your customers’ preferences, create a prototype version of your product to test your assumptions and findings.
Lastly, seek more customer feedback so you can gradually improve upon your product until it’s reached a sellable version.
Creators, it’s never been easier to bring your digital product ideas to life with social media.
Whether your audience prefers Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you now have the knowledge and tools like Edgar to validate your product idea — and we can’t wait to see what you come up with.
Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites — alongside their creators — thrive. Check out our free 12,000+ word guide to creating profitable online courses, even if you’ve never done it before.