PPC has long been the cheapest, quickest, easiest way to test-market products and services, offers and pricing, positioning and copywriting.
But in order to use PPC to ask and answer questions about what the market thinks of your offers, you have to already have a product or service ready to go. Whatever your ad promises, your landing page has to begin to deliver.
And no savvy entrepreneur would create their product without doing a ton of market research first, so they could have some confidence that enough people were willing to pay to solve that particular problem.
So we've got a Catch 22: you can't do PPC market research without a product, and you can't build your product without that market research.
Before we solve that problem, let's talk briefly about what that preliminary market research needs to address. According to Sharon Livingston of The Livingston Group, the first step is to identify your bulls-eye customers: the ones who are most like to buy into the functional and emotional benefits of your product.
If I'm thinking about offering a vegan meal delivery service, I can create very different products depending on who my market is. I can do frozen meals for busy families with large freezers. I can offer freshly made, locally-sourced gourmet meals for wealthy urbanites. I can use lots of “fake meats” for new vegans still missing their beef and bacon, or stick to whole foods and lots of produce for people more concerned about reversing or preventing disease.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The initial market research should inform the creation of my Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a phrase popularized in Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup. The MVP needs to meet, not global needs, but the needs of a specific set of early adopters who will be willing to try something new, not expect instant perfection, give feedback, and eventually evangelize. Steve Blank, in his book "Four Steps to the Epiphany", calls these customers “earlyvangelists.”
So how do we conduct that research?
Step 1: Identify potential market segments
You can't test a market segment until you've defined it. So for my vegan meal service, I start by making some assumptions. Some of these are based on my own experience, some might be based on things I've seen or read or heard, and some are probably just hunches.
For example: Women will be more interested in men. Liberals more than conservatives. Urban more than rural. Families with kids more than singles or double income, no-kid families.
These assumptions may or may not be true. Since we're testing them, we're not relying upon them. But we can't test them until we name them specifically.
So I might come up with three contestants for earlyvangelist:
- A vegan mother of two kids still at home who works outside the home, lives in a big city or suburb of a big city, and whose total household income exceeds $75,000.
- A college-educated, married woman in her early 60s whose husband is on meds for hypertension and whose daughter told her to watch a documentary on the relationship between food and health.
- A single woman in her 20s who lives in a big city, blogs for a hobby, and never learned to cook.
Step 2: Figure out how to reach these market segments
A market segment is useful to you only if you can reach them reliably and affordably. Here, Facebook Graph Search is one of the most useful tools around. Kevin Milani, VP of Digital Marketing for Virtual Marketing Staff, uses Graph Search to find out about people who like similar products and services to the ones his clients plan to launch.
You use Graph Search by entering strings of search parameters into the global Facebook search bar at the top of the page:
You can search for interests, groups, other pages liked, places visited, movies and music and TV shows liked, restaurants visited, and much more.
In the above screen shot, we see that women over the age of 25 who like Whole Foods Market are interested in yoga, spirituality, and meditation. While those may seem obvious to anyone who's ever hung around a Whole Foods salad bar, there are other less obvious interests farther down the page, including Jesus Christ, Cuddling, Beaches, Flip-flops, and Hiking:
With all this information, you can start to get a more complete picture of the different target markets that may comprise your earlyvangelists. The more you can understand your prospects' needs and emotions, the more accurately and powerfully you can speak to them and meet their needs.
But for the purposes of this article, the information gleaned in step 2 allows you to begin engaging with your target market.
Step 3: Engage Your Target Market with Facebook Ads
You can target your ads to the very selects and qualities that you discovered through Graph Search, mixed and matched with the demographic filters of your choice.
You can bring those folks to your Facebook page, where you can explain the general concept of your offer and ask for their help in getting it into the world. You can offer money and gift cards and other consideration in exchange for 20-minute interviews.
After the first few interviews from a given ad campaign, you'll be able to tell if you've gotten the selection criteria right, or if you need to try again.
This way, you can bootstrap some of the most valuable market data you could possibly get: how your prospective best customers think about the problem you're trying to solve, how they deal with it now, and how excited they are about your innovation.
As well as what functional benefits they want to see (which tells you how to build your first MVP) and what emotional benefits are important to them (which tells you how to talk about the functional benefits).
These three steps, iterated until you get what you're looking for, can get you to the stage where it makes sense to invest in the creation of your MVP, at which point you can start using PPC to see if anyone will buy.