Marketing planning does not come first. Call it the “First Step Mistake.”

In a nutshell, business owners often focus on marketing content initiatives before product development, audience research, and marketplace viability.

Then comes the mental exhaustion of marketing planning without the ROI that should accompany it. As content marketers, we can tell you that this reversal of tasks is a recipe for disaster.

The trouble is, many small businesses don’t recognize this as a problem.

OK, I’m listening—what’s the real danger here?”

We definitely understand the temptation to begin marketing without audience research, product development, and proactive troubleshooting.

The danger is that, when the marketing comes first, the messaging becomes garbled. The “First Step Mistake” will limit what your product can become. Not to mention, your audience profile might be dead wrong.

We know how the process works. We say this as marketing professionals who…

  • Write blog articles and website content for visionary companies.
  • Consult with business owners on how to establish fluid marketing communication.
  • Establish profitable marketing plans that empower entrepreneurs with clarity of action.

And we love seeing the results these endeavors create.

However, we also accept that content marketing, and the launch of it, is the second step in the success equation. We’ve seen what happens when the audience and product don’t mesh.

Nothing happens.

At least as far as your engagement, sales, and ROI is concerned.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but here goes…

If you want to mitigate risk and achieve maximum ROI, start with the product development and audience research, and then launch into the marketing plan.

This is controversial, so here’s a word of warning

The common wisdom dictates that products are born from audiences. Build a tribe and then create a product around that avatar.

This idea is especially prevalent in niche industries and for serial entrepreneurs.

And it’s not especially bad advice. However, we think of audience and product creation as a yin-yang/side-to-side approach. The hierarchy is equally important, and one entity feeds off the other.

None of this is to say that your marketing message is any less integral than the product itself. You can’t have one without the other.

BUT no experienced marketing professional will begin nurture sequences and lead magnet plans without first establishing the foundation.

How you can KNOW you’re following the right order

Products/services and the messages that promote them are both equally crucial. But as we’ve said, there is an order to follow.

And often it’s hard to figure out where you are in the process.

For this reason, we recommend a 3-step approach to know where you are on the product marketing trail map.

Every step you take can successfully happen through…

  1. Asking questions about the product.

  2. Asking questions about the people who will buy it.

  3. Asking questions to someone with an outside perspective.

This strategy allows you to pinpoint exactly where you are in your product debut. The system of checks and balances will let you know whether it’s time to move forward or take a step back.

What’s more, this approach will save you time, investment dollars, and heartache.

1. Answer Questions About the Product

When it comes to developing your product, there are four simple questions involved. These queries are a compass that shows you how to develop an irresistible commodity that you can market effectively.

Why does the product need to exist?

When you answer this question during the planning and testing phases, you already have a marketing angle. Though it’s not time to start creating nurture sequences yet, you’ll gain a glimpse into how the message should be conveyed.

This question goes beyond personal financial gain. While profits are part of your initiative, forget about the bottom line for a moment.

Instead think about the problem you’re determined to solve. Consider your own experiences and that of your constituents. Whatever your answer is to why the product exists, this will be the core element of your marketing content.

Example: An eco-friendly laundry detergent gets clothes clean. But that’s not why the business created it. The organic compounds allow earth-conscious individuals to perform common household duties without guilt or concern.

What is the product’s function?

Think not only in terms of outcome, but also of user experience. In this way, you solidify your viability in the marketplace.

Example: MOBIT Mobile Marketing Technologies allows end users to remain at arm’s length of their constituents. As a B2B business, there are two forms of user experience at play—that of the marketer and his or her audience.

With enhanced mobile capabilities, customers enjoy timely deals and information and marketers remain close to their prospects.

How does the product help?

Specifics are key with this question. Think of actual problems that your product will bypass or overcome. Only when you have this information can you fully understand your offering and develop marketing that speaks directly to the ideal customer.

Example: If a prospect suffers from chronic tooth pain, a product such as SenzAway provides proactive relief.

How is it different from others products?

Market saturation is a big hurdle. It’s difficult to bypass this issue without asking and answering this question during the product development phase.

Example: Serenity + Scott Beauty caters to both men and women. Not many cosmetics or health/beauty companies can tout that angle. As a result, the company has a clear method to differentiate themselves is a populated market.

2. Answer Questions About the Audience

When it comes to product development that leads to profitable marketing, an understanding of the audience is key. This stage takes awhile and requires much thinking. Luckily, you can complete the task once you answer one question.

Who are they and what is their daily life like?

This is the real reason you developed your product in the first place.

Think deep about your buyer persona—what they like, what they hate, what keeps them up at night, and what keeps them going. Get very specific. Once you do that, you have the framework for effective marketing content…

Landing pages, blog articles, and website features that speak directly to your unique audience.

Our advice: dig deep into the buyer’s mindset. Ask yourself about…

  • The information your people don’t have yet. Specifically, how that knowledge will make your audience’s lives richer.
  • The struggles and desires that fill the buyer’s head. When you want something and you can’t figure out how to get it, this will cause pain and frustration.
  • Why your prospects need your product in the first place. As you research your audience and develop your product, keep reminding yourself of how people will benefit. The more specific, the better.

Or maybe you’re not sure where to start profiling your audience?

Many business owners are in this situation. More than you think.

Interested. This is the one descriptor you really, really want for your audience.

In one of our latest podcasts, Catherine describes how to drive the most interested (read: ideal) traffic to your marketing message.

3. Ask an Outsider About Your Product/Marketing Status

A results-focused marketing planner will be able to help you at any stage—whether you’re in the product-testing phase or you’re ready to start driving traffic.

And it’s good to speak with a professional who can look at your product and marketing ideas from a fresh perspective.

As you can tell from the strategies above, product development and marketing initiatives work almost in tandem. Truly, the outlined strategy creates a side-to-side development of product and audience, even though you’re following an hierarchy.

As this back-and-forth scenario will often lead to confusion, it’s wise to first establish clarity—not only on what you sell, but also on why you do what you do.

An outsider will be able to deliver that clarity to you.