It’s another one of those chicken or egg questions, as in which one came first, not what to have for dinner.
Should you create a product first, and then find an audience for it?
Or should you connect with others first, and then create a product for them?
There are pros and cons to both.
If you create a product first, you run the risk of spending time building something nobody wants. No matter how good your needs analysis research, without testing it against potential customers, you could be in a monumental waste of time and resources.
On the other hand, if you have something already created, you have something to immediately offer your audience, when you do eventually connect with them.
Focusing on your audience first forces you to go out there and network in ways which may challenge your comfort zone.
In our current mass distraction environment, visibility is tough, being heard even tougher and keeping your audience’s attention span requires focused effort.
However, if you are willing to go the extra mile to identify your audience, become visible to them, and then engage them in meaningful communication, then there is no better place to be.
So Which Is Best?
I must say I’ve done both.
I’ve created digital products in a vacuum. Some got lucky and found customers, and others failed miserably, not seeing any customer eyeballs beyond my immediate friends.
I’ve also built up an audience, and got caught with a massive traffic wave with nothing to capture it.
I still recall that unreal feeling of refreshing my stats every couple of minutes and seeing the graph literally spike upwards.
It felt like picking up one of those 5 gallon water bottles, only to discover that there’s a gaping hole in the bottom, seeping water out all over the floor.
So the short answer to the question product first or audience first is, well … both.
My Limited Impact Product
Earlier this year, I started to create a new training product. I was so excited about it — the kind of excitement that makes you tap into your iPhone Notes application in the middle of the night, lest your forget that brilliant thought.
I created the slides, the accompanying notes, slaved away over a hot keyboard to find just the right visuals to go with them.
I even started to work on the templates, the cheat sheets and other collateral … all without a single input from anyone, least of all the audience it was targeted for.
Then, it happened.
Through a series of prods and serendipitous events, I actually ended up delivering the first few modules to a live audience in my living room.
The good news: it was great. I had fun, they had fun. They had some a-ha moments, and connected with one another fabulously.
The bad news: the training impact wasn’t nearly as impactful as I had hoped.
The reason for the limited impact? The audience had very little in common in terms of what they wanted out of the session.
True, they all wanted to learn something about leveraging their skills for the new digital economy, but beyond that, they were at largely different points on their own online reinvention roadmap.
A Proven Approach
Back in 2012, I started a brand new blog with a brand new persona, and quickly grew it to hundreds of daily views. Beginner’s luck, I thought at the time. So that was the audience part of it.
Over the space of a few weeks, I wrote a 15-part series on how to create a blog, basically reiterating what I had myself learned and put into practice.
As blog visitors read and commented on the individual posts that made up the series, I got useful feedback that informed the next post, or perhaps an update to a previous one.
In other words, my audience was actively shaping the content I was creating.
So you know what I did? I used those posts to form the bulk of what became one of my most successful Kindle books.
As I shared my new book’s link on the blog, my audience was already primed for this information, knew my style of writing and how I impart information. My audience already had a taste, and they were happy to recommend me and my book to their own networks, once they had grabbed a copy for themselves.
The Co-Creation Model
Back to our chicken-egg product or audience first question, the answer is to do both in parallel. What I perceived as beginner’s luck was, in fact, a co-creating model, and I didn’t even know it, much less set out to do it that way on purpose.
Co-creating in this context means you are creating in sync with your audience, while you’re building the very same audience and your product.
Choose your medium and create content to attract your ideal audience — may be you will blog, create interesting Instagram images, share tips on Pinterest, or shoot short how-to videos for YouTube.
Regardless of your medium, you can work on reaching your ideal audience with your content, and when they engage with you (or not!), it will tell you what resonates, and what doesn’t.
This allows you to get live, timely feedback for the direction of your product, establish a common baseline for your audience, thus informing at which level of learning to aim your product.
The thing to keep in mind is that you need to create — that’s whether you are creating outreach content to attract new followers or a chapter in your book, you need to get BIC (butt in chair) and create.
Though I’m thrilled you stopped by and read this post right to this point, stop reading right now, and go write something of your own!
Yes, a comment on this post counts as content you created!
PS: Can’t decide on what to create? Get the Plan Me Right Trello-powered board game. It’s free, and been known to get champion procrastinators to make a decision and actually create!