"Product market fit." As founders, we all want it. We know that it means our product (or service) fills a need with customers and they are willing to pay for it. Oftentimes though, we undertake this exercise in reverse. Envision a need/problem, develop a product/service, take it to market and see if it clicks.
Instead, let's try understanding our customers first and then tailoring solutions that fit their needs and lifestyle. Tara-Nicholle Nelson, former head of marketing for Trulia and MyFitnessPal, shares an invaluable framework for this "customer mapping" exercise. The information she shares is heavily focused on how to create more engaging content marketing opportunities, but it also applies to the wider issue of understanding your customers.
A key element of the customer mapping exercise is to develop a narrative from the initial problem to the solution. One key to Nelson's approach is that these are not two distinct stages. There may be five or six different inflection points from the initial problem to a solution, with a number of "micro moments" in between at which you can provide valuable insight or content to guide your customers along their path to a solution. By understanding what that arc from problem to solution is, you can both determine whether your product fits a need, and also develop new products that fit in with your core customer needs.
We're in the process of undertaking this work at The Food Loft for our coworking space in Boston and resources we design for food startups. Whether you're a new company just starting out or one that's been around for a few years, this is the kind of exercise that should be done on a recurring basis to continually align what you're selling to those that you are selling to.