Find and Delight Your Microvertical

Many innovative products and services will be launched this year – yet only a handful will survive and thrive. Why is that? Why do most  fail, while others go on to mainstream success? What do teams who manage to create successful innovative products and services have in common?

It’s a complex equation, of course – but one key variable is the ability to attract, maintain and leverage a strong MircroVertical – AKA early-adopter enthusiasts who LOVE and NEED your product or service and help you shape it.  Without that early, energetic kickstart and feedback loop,  it’s almost impossible to cross the chasm into mainstream use. When you get it right, your chances of success go WAY up.

I first learned this lesson in the trenches of game development, where successful games have long been prototyped into existence. I’ve worked on a variety of  multiplayer games and gaming platforms that had  varying degrees of success. I noticed that the successful ones attracted and embraced an early following of enthusiasts – avid gamers, curious students, wanna-be devs, military wives, SAHMs, IT guys on the midnight shift – people who wanted to “lean in” and feel like part of the development team.

I noticed the same pattern when I worked at eBay during their growth from 30 to 300 employees. Right from the start, Pierre Omidyar setup a feedback loop with avid early customers – and that customer-listening habit permeated eBay’s early product development culture. We  had an ongoing conversation with avid early adopters – and their input had a major impact on eBay’s core social features and systems. 

Around that same time, another client of mine developed and launched an innovative, high-profile Alternate Reality Game targeted at mainstream consumers. One small problem: the avid early adopters got in first (as they always do), chewed through the content quicker than expected, gleefully shared “secrets” about the game on their favorite geeky forums, and generally ruined the party for everyone. That ambitious game never reached its intended audience – in part because the team decided to skip over the early adopters in their development process.

It takes smarts, focus and humility to proactively find and connect with your MicroVertical – and the payoff is huge. These people will be happy to playtest your early versions and populate your Beta program. They’ll give you exhaustive, opinionated feedback about features, system balance, and UX. As long as you’re setup to filter and contextualize their feedback (KEY issue – I’ll write more about that soon), these early enthusiasts are invaluable in getting an innovative game, product or service off the ground.

So if your product is mainstream-friendly and easy to understand, go ahead and target the masses. But if you’re building something innovative, the mainstream consumer won’t be able understand or value your creation – or give you the feedback you need to evolve. We re-learned this lesson painfully with a recent client who built a fantastic, innovative educational gaming system and healthy, agile product development culture – but didn’t find that early enthusiast market, went broad to lackluster sales, and ultimately failed.

Curious? Want more details about HOW to make this work for your project? In my next post,  I’ll share my 5 Step Plan for Mobilizing Your Microvertical.

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