When you come up with a new product idea, it can be tempting to want to jump right in to the design process. After all, figuring out how your product will look and function is more fun than digging through demographic research or putting together a focus group.

However, if you want a chance at success, this kind of research is important. This is what will tell you about what some people call the “opportunity gap”—in other words, the gap in the market that your product will fill. If you skip this part, you risk spending time, money, and mental energy inventing something that nobody wants, or—perhaps worse—inventing something that another guy invented and brought to market six months ago.

Here are some ways to go about your initial product research.

  1. Identify your target market. This is the simple part. If you’ve got a clear idea of what it is you want to invent, you probably have a general idea of your target market already. If you’re inventing a fish skinner like one of our clients did, your general market is fisherman. If you’re inventing a portable solar battery, your general market is people who care about the environment enough to choose solar power.

  2. But that’s just the beginning—you want to get detailed with this, so that eventually you get profiles of the type of people who are likely to buy your product. Take the solar battery, for example. Another group of people who’d probably be interested in that product is survivalists; another possibility could be people who live in areas prone to power outages, like hurricane- or tornado-prone regions.

    You can do a lot of this first part just using your brain and a piece of paper and pencil, but you should also search for industry and business publications that pertain to your product. They may have articles or studies that can give you valuable information.

  3. Go deeper with data. Now that you’ve gotten a good idea of who your audience is, it’s time to start looking at actual numbers. Is your target market women in their 30s? Midwestern men over 50? You can find lots of data about these and other groups by searching through Census.gov, and through Google—but there comes a point when you really need to start gathering data on your own.

  4. You can do this through surveys, interviews, or focus groups, all of which you can set up yourself. There’s also always the option of hiring an independent market analyst or even a dedicated market research firm. The costs could be substantial, but then, so could the gains that come from hiring them.

  5. Scope out the competition. This is just as important as figuring out who your target market is. You’ve also got to know who and what you’re competing with, and whether your product has that special something that will make it competitive in the market. That could be any number of things: a better price point, better functionality, higher quality, even a more attractive aesthetic.

In addition to basic things like Google searches and visiting your competition’s websites, it’s a good idea to check your competition’s social media profiles. This way, you can see not just what the company or inventor is saying, but what users are saying too. Is there a design flaw or functionality issue that people bring up? Is there a feature in particular that they really love?

Granted, social media comments are no replacement for real, in-person research (see #2), but they can certainly give you a feel for what your competition is doing well and what they’re not.

Once you’ve finished your research, you should have a clear blueprint of what your product is, what it will do, and who will want it. And when you’re ready to move to the next step, product design and development, contact Pivot! We’d love to help you make your great idea into a successful product.