Build Your Product by Marketing It First
Long ago, I read a Quora answer by, I think, Venkatesh Roa about how you should start your marketing long before you have a product. I think that makes a lot of sense, at least for the type of products I’m interested in (things sold on the Internet to a specific audience e.g. SaaS products).
What exactly does he mean by “marketing”, though? Well, specifically, he’s talking about content marketing. You post useful things to your website, people find them and slowly but surely you build an audience that trusts you and wants to hear what you say. Then, once you have a product, you just market to that audience.
This model can certainly work. I hadn’t thought of it before, but StackOverflow did exactly this. They did it unintentionally, at first, by both Joel and Jeff having big audiences from their blogs, and they did intentionally later by doing the StackOverflow podcast as they were working on the site (if I remember correctly). Without the momentum from that pre-product marketing, StackOverflow almost certainly wouldn’t have got off the ground.
But I think there’s an even more powerful way in which this model can work, and you can use to it to not just market your product but, also, come up with the product itself.
The idea is to first pick a market that you’d like to serve (software developers, accountants, mid-size software companies, whatever) then develop compelling content for that audience. This will, naturally, require research into that market and, in the process, you’re more likely than not come across problems faced by this market. Find a way to solve those problems and you have a product.