Strong GTM Start with a Strong Understanding of the Market
Maximize your product's potential with a clear understanding of the market. Learn how to break entrenched habits, and discover the 3Cs: Category, Customer, and Core Use Case.
Building a product without understanding the market is like shooting in the dark. Unfortunately, many teams race to launch their products without taking the time to understand the potential customers and their needs.
While reaching product market fit (PMF) is more of an art than a science, I’ve found that starting with a clear baseline on the category, customer, and core use case saves time and increases the chances of finding PMF.
Here’s a guide that I wrote back in 2021 when I was leading the Marketing team for Meta’s internal incubator, New Product Experimentation. I outlined why you want a stronger understanding of the markets you’re entering, what you should know about your market, and how product marketers and product managers can work together to build a winning go-to-market strategy.
A Deep Understanding Of The Audience Is Critical Because People Have Entrenched Habits
To break entrenched habits, you need to deliver a 10X better solution. To do so, you need a clear understanding of what problems your audience cares deeply about and how they solve those problems today.
Without this understanding, you risk spending precious resources building things that aren’t likely to deliver enough value to displace the current solutions. And while you may be able to get people into the product for a first trial, it is unlikely that they’ll return and nearly impossible that they’ll tell their friends.
If you think about the products you use on a daily basis, I’m sure you can name the 10X experiences that propelled them into your daily habit. Here’s a few of mine:
*If you’re interested, this blog post shares a great outline of Spotify’s path to $20B, including their maniacal focus on audio quality to start and their decision to focus on seeding the product with music bloggers.
Our market understanding and validation efforts should provide us with a clear picture of 3Cs: category, customer, and core use case
Category: Where Does Your Product Sit And What Expectations Come With The Category?
Effective understanding of your category means you have a strong sense of what jobs the category is hired for, what expectations consumers have of products in this category, and where there may be unmet needs. The understanding of the category (and later the ideal customer) leads to effective positioning of when, how, and why someone should pick you over another solution to their problem.
You should be able to answer:
Market/Category definition & trajectory:
What category does your product fit into?
How is the category segmented and what are the sizes of the segments?
How is the category growing/shifting/shrinking or are you inventing a new category (e.g. Uber and ride-sharing or Netflix and streaming)?
What signal does the team have on market readiness? (e.g. Clubhouse took signal from the explosion in podcast consumption)
Assumptions/expectations of the category: If the category has existed for some time or there is a dominant player in the category then people likely have certain expectations about how products within that category operate.
What table stakes expectations will you need to meet?
How does your product concept stack up against these expectations?
What expectation will you exceed? (i.e. your 10X)
Benchmark competitor: This is the competitor that is most likely to be used by your target audience. Note: the benchmark competitor is not always the market leader. It could honestly be that most people choose to do nothing or they have gotten in the habit to solve their problems with very manual solutions.
How do people solve the problem today?
What is working/not working with their current solution?
Customer: Who Is The Ideal Customer Segment To Target (Often This Is The Person With The Most Pain/Gain From Solving The Problem)?
The goal is to uncover and validate that this is a high value problem that people are motivated to solve. With this understanding, you can hone in on who the product will solve this problem for first. It’s best to start with a narrow definition of the target. Find a wedge into the market. Then expand on it later.
You should be able to answer:
Who are the people your product would serve best today?
Why does your product matter to them? (i.e. what is the benefit that you provide?)
Will your product exceed their expectations?
How does your target segment find your product? (i.e. knowing where your target segment spends time will give you insight into what channels to target for your GTM.)
What is their relationship with other relevant audiences for your product? (This is especially important for products with two audiences like marketplaces or creator products.)
For all of the above, what evidence do we have that this is right? [People are complex. Therefore, you’ll want build multiple forms of evidence that your understanding is accurate. Evidence can come from user interviews, scaled surveys, demand testing through ads and landing page tests, and lightweight concept testing with Figma mocks or Wizard of Oz prototyping. None of these require the team to build the full product.
Core Use Case: What Is That Unique Experience That Will Differentiate The Product From Other Solutions?
The core use case is that value-driving 10X better experience that differentiates you from the other products in the market. It must be noticeable and compelling enough to get your target customer over the hurdles to trial that you identified and validated in our customer understanding efforts.
You should aim to answer:
What are the core problems and the frequency of occurrence of those problems?
Is the audience aware of the problem?
What motivates them to solve the problem?
Bonus points: What emotions correspond with this motivation?
How do they solve this problem today?
What is good, bad, or missing when they think about their current solution?
How did they select their current solution? (i.e. what was the selection criteria, where did they get information, and whose voices matter to them)
What stops them from trying something new?
The 10X experience:
What is your 10X experience for your target customer?
How do people experience that 10X? (i.e. what conditions need to be met/what steps does the user need to take for them to get to that 10X experience? Think about Instagram 10X experience of community, I can’t experience that without following people or hashtags.)
How does your product grow? (i.e. is it through WOM, if so, have you built the sharing mechanisms that make sense for your product? Are you prompting people to share?)
Remember, your product is your biggest GTM lever. The team should think diligently about how confident you all are in your 10X experience as well as how the product will grow before scaled releases. Then the marketing efforts can help kickstart that flywheel and even grease the tires in some places that may be slow to start.
Ultimately, The Answers That You Have To The Above Questions Are The Building Blocks Of Your Product And GTM Strategy
This table seems oversimplified. But the reality is that each component has a direct parallel to product and GTM. The hard part is gathering an initial understanding and validating that against your target audience. With strong collaboration across key functions (PM, Design, UXR, DS, and PMM), you’ll be able to develop a deep understanding that fuels your product and GTM strategy.