“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.”
In 1798, Napoleon and his army embarked on their campaign in Egypt. It was what he envisioned as his gateway to conquering the whole of Asia, by marching through Egypt and the Middle East.
Following the footsteps of his hero, Alexander the Great, Napoleon sought to win the hearts of the locals by adopting their way of life, in his dress and manners, even keeping a copy of the Qur’an, though it was shelved under “politics” in his traveling library. He looked far ahead, dreaming of even establishing his own religion. “I saw myself founding a new religion,” he said. “Marching into Asia riding an elephant, a turban on my head, and in my hand the Qur’an.”
He surely had lofty dreams, but that’s all they were — Dreams. While his vision had great breadth, it lacked depth. Perhaps blindsided by passion and hubris, he didn’t do much homework prior to the campaign.
Forget about the opposing British army, because the terrain itself was already suicide for the French. As they marched through the scorching deserts, they ran low on food and water, and suffered from diseases such as cholera and ophthalmia. As severely demoralized as they already were, they had to confront the reality that their presence were not welcome in Egypt. As much as Napoleon presented himself as a friendly liberator, the locals had little tolerance for foreign forces.
And of course, the better-supplied and thoroughly-prepared British Navy caused Napoleon and his troops to surrender, repatriating back to France and kissing his Egyptian campaign goodbye. Napoleon’s grandiose dream of conquering Asia was wiped out before it even truly started.
So what does have to do with creative work and marketing?
Just like Napoleon, a lot of us make the common mistake of having a grand dream or a finished product, and only then doing the hard thinking — Such as who it’s for, what it does, why would people care, and what might go wrong. It’s so crucial to keep in mind that marketing is baked into the product itself, and it’s not merely about putting out an ad. Of course that’s part of it, but it’s far from being everything.
Conducting a market research before even deciding if an idea is worth pursuing might not be as cool as suddenly dreaming up something grand, working in your cave for months and having it miraculously turn into a bestseller, but it certainly improves your chances of making your product successful.
Even the Goliaths out there are not exempt from this rule. Perhaps as your brand grows larger, it might be all the more reason to research — Because you would have the tendency to assume that everyone will be excited with anything you do.
You might have heard about the sobering tale of Starbucks rapidly expanding their stores in Australia, only to end up closing more than 70% of them, because they failed to see that Australia’s coffee culture was already very strong, and locals wouldn’t prefer their expensive sugary drinks.
Dunkin’ Donuts failed in India because most locals like to have their breakfast at home before work, unlike the American “grab and go” food culture. People there also don’t normally eat sweet food in the morning. Coffee isn’t big there either, unlike their traditional chai, or spiced tea.
During this semester, I’ve been taking up a subject called Product Planning and Management, in which we learn about the new product development (NPD) process. Generally, making a product starts with identifying opportunities, coming up with product ideas, evaluating those ideas, making a prototype, and only then, launching the finished product and promoting it.
As part of our assignment, we had to create a product based on this process, and we had to present our progress in each step, week after week. During the presentation of the first step : opportunity identification, as expected, nearly everyone talked about the finish product that they wanted to make. Luckily, having been aware about this common mistake, my groupmates and I were the only ones who didn’t yet reveal our product ideas. At this step, we were only looking for problems in the world that remain unaddressed, and the opportunities for us to fulfill those unmet needs with our future product.
There’s a lot of work to do before you even get to decide to create a product. You’re doing survey after survey, graph after graph, analysis after analysis, sketch after sketch, to know that you’re solving important problems, to know that your product’s features are what your target consumers really want, and if it’s actually feasible or cost-effective to implement.
Of course there were very specific methods that we used in those steps, but generally, it’s a good framework to have if you’re trying to create something new. Even if you have a finished product in mind, just work backwards and find the answers to these questions.
- What problem am I solving?
- What ideas do I have to solve those problems?
- Which of those ideas are best? (According to cost and preference of target consumers)
- What feedback have I gotten from my target consumers about my prototype/trial version?
- How am I going to promote the product when I launch it?
As a creative, market research is your friend. Don’t think that your work is going to be good. Put in the work to know that it’s good.