Which Comes First: Audience or Product?

In my first couple of startups, I built things in the traditional order: product first, then audience.

With Think Traffic, I started blogging first, then figured out which products and services to deliver to the audience that gathered here.

Which approach is better? Is it better to build an audience first, and then a product/service, or should you build a product first and find the audience later?

Spoiler alert: either can work, and countless examples exist in both cases. The real question is: which approach is most likely to work for you?

I wish I had some statistical evidence to share with you, but I don’t know of any studies on this. Anecdotally, the audience-first approach worked better for me, but will it for you?

The Problem with Building the Product First

So why not create the product first, and then go looking for an audience? Isn’t this how most businesses start: someone identifies a need, builds a product, releases it and word gets out to willing buyers?

Not exactly.

There are two problems with building a product without an audience. First, it’s most likely you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t exactly meet your potential audience’s needs. All that time spent on product development can easily be wasted.

The biggest risk you’ll face as an entrepreneur is building something no one actually wants.

Next, even if you do create something people want, it’s not as if they’re magically going to show up at your door. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Yes, some companies get lucky with viral word-of-mouth, but most often this has to be engineered.

Just because you build a great product, that doesn’t mean you can skip over the audience-building part. You’ll either have to build an audience through hard work (content marketing), or with deep pockets (advertising).

The Problem with Building the Audience First

On the other hand, the common argument against an audience-first approach is that it can take years of content creation to build a sizable audience.

Building great content takes a ton of time and effort. It’s easy to get stuck in the blogging trap and never get around to creating a product. I’ve seen this over and over again with bloggers who can’t seem to turn their audience into paying customers.


If they come, you will build it.”

Jim Coudal


For entrepreneurs, it’s true that having a thriving audience is a fantastic thing, but only if you have the stamina and creativity to turn that audience into a business.

Many simply don’t.

The Solution: A Minimum Viable Combination

A business can’t exist without both a product/service AND an audience.

The real danger lies not in whether you start with the product or audience first, but in becoming overly focused on one without the other.

You need both a product and an audience. Your product has to be a great fit for your audience. As a business builder, your goal should be to figure out whether your audience will buy your product as soon as possible.

The real risk is in spending months or years on a product or an audience only to find out that no one wants your product, or that you can’t figure out how to offer something to your audience that they’re willing to pay for.

Spending too much time solely on product development OR audience development is a waste. To build a business, you have to do both simultaneously.

A product without an audience is a solution without a problem.

An audience without a product is a hobby, not a business.

You could start either with an audience or a product, but the best approach is to start with both. Start building both your audience and your product early to avoid wasting time on the wrong product or the wrong audience.

Build a minimum viable product alongside a minimum viable audience, and you’ll have a winning combination.

Now Let’s Hear Your Approach

I’d love to hear what your approach is, and why you decided to take it. Are you starting with the audience or product first? Why? Which way is better?

I asked yesterday on Twitter “which comes first: audience or product?” Here are three answers I really like:

 
What’s your favorite approach? Tell us in the comments.

Get the free guide to defining your audience
  • http://www.dawnofchange.com Onder Hassan

    This was a dilemma I had for ages until I eventually realized that your FREE offer is what will give you a hint about what type of product your audience wants. If your audience/subscriber opts into your list, then chances are, they are looking to overcome that exact problem.

    With that in mind, the best thing for anyone looking to make an income from their blog is to sell a ‘one time offer’ upon opting in to your list that is ‘related’ to the FREE offer.

    So if the free offer is about ‘The top 10 mistakes people make when growing an email list’. You could offer them a $7 OTO on a product about ‘How to build a targeted list of buying customers’.

    This is in my opinion the best way to test audience engagement and whether they will buy from you in the future. The benefit of this is that you can eventually segment your buyers and sell them additional products for a higher price.

    This is my strategy moving forward.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Interesting strategy Onder, I hope it serves you well. Let us know how your plan works out.

  • http://youronline.biz Darnell Jackson

    Excellent topic something that people should be seriously thinking about.

    “An audience without a product is a hobby, not a business.”

    I have to agree with you here.

    However that doesn’t mean that you can’t create excellent products from hobbies.
    Example a thriving blog could add some adsense or affiliate banners and boom they have some income with having to do much in terms of product research.

    I think you’ll need some mixture there days though.

    Developing a product without researching the demand is a mistake unless you are competing with an existing product that you plan to compete with.

    LIke opt-in skin vs hybrid connect.

    One started with a blog then launched product one started with product then launched blog.

  • http://noneyet Carlos Rivas

    I don’t have a choice : My product is almost done and I don’t even have a website. at least 15 weeks of hard work. — Let’s hope now that there is an audience that wants it! :-)

    Funny thing is, I found somebody that told me the exact same thing as this article, the other day.
    He said : Just make the most lean version you can, something that barely works and then create expectation around it… to test if people would be interested in buying/using such product. And of course, build a mailing list of leads for when the product is finally ready.

    Let’s see how this one goes!

  • http://www.thingstodowithkidsmn.com Dawn Marcotte

    I have tried both – and to be honest have had a little more success with building the product first. However my product are ebooks that are targeted at parents and families. This is such a huge market that most of my income actually comes from the bookstores, not my website. I use my website to promote my books and ask for reviews etc.

    I would love to create a product specific to my website and my email list, but have not yet been successful at this. I am still growing my list and my goal in 2013 is to get my members to tell me where they have pain so I can write an ebook that solves that pain.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

  • http://benfanning.com/ Ben

    Hey Corbett, Hot topic! I focused on building an audience first via a blog and then launched a podcast (which I’m really enjoying). I don’t think you have to do it that way though. When people get to know your podcast they’re much more likely to sign-up for your list.

    I’ve really enjoyed getting to know people via a live podcast and encouraging more interaction over the phone.

    I’m not totally satisfied with the call-in platform I use now though. What technologies are other people using for this kind of podcast?

  • http://angieandriot.com Angie Andriot

    You know what’s funny – I bounced out of bed at 2 this morning and developed a name, logo, and initial draft of an opt-in for a quirky fun product idea I’ve been mulling.

    And then I got onto one of my biz groups on Facebook and shared it all with them. My idea is super honed now, compared to what it was at 2am (go figure, eh?)

    So, to answer your question -what comes first, the product or the audience? It’s like choosing between the chicken and the egg. But I think my story hints at a viable middle ground. I have built-in networks of people who are both my peers and my potential market, since my audience is other solopreneurs.

    Build your network, and you can test your product concepts there. Then if it seems viable, you can start the work developing an audience AND a product. If you’re lucky, part of your network will opt in as the audience for your new product. That in many ways, they helped create. Win-win. Yes?

  • http://thepowerrank.com/about/ Ed Feng

    Corbett,

    Wow, I’ve been wondering about this question every since I heard Brian Clark say Minimum Viable Audience.

    And amazingly, I’ve been doing a Minimum Viable Combination. My business is based on sports analytics and data visualization, and my biggest victory of the past year has been building a product to get above the $0 revenue threshold. This happened with a crazy small list upon launch last fall.

    Now that I have a product, I’m working on building up that audience. My only regret is not building that audience earlier before I quit my corporate job. I should have been guest posting instead of taking nearly 2 years to even start using WordPress.

    Great post, and thanks for all the awesome content.

    Ed

  • http://thestrategicmama.com Vanita

    HI Corbett,
    Before I graduated college, every single job I had was in customer service. I think it trained me to always put the client first. After graduation, when I had employers, though I was hired to do some specific thing, I assisted each employer in expanding their business by asking what else the existing clients needed and building a solution. My first employer thought I was nuts. he’d hired me with the belief that being fresh out of college with fresh ideas and technical knowledge, I’d be able to come up with new services ideas for his business. Because of the pressure to do things his way, my first service idea was a #fail. But after getting to know our clients I was able to implement services that generated an income. And I continued to do so for every firm I worked with. It then carried over to my blog.
    While still employed I started a blog, connected with the mom bloggers community and at some point I found myself asking, what does my community need? And then providing it. At first it was simple how to posts and tech advice when needed. It then became blog designs, wordpress training, seo training and now includes blog designs built with a marketing purpose and consulting. Not because it was my bright idea, but because it’s what my community needed. I have to credit my ability to being able to be an entrepreneur to the audience that welcomed me with open arms and helped me by letting me know what would help them. Without that audience/community/network, I’d still be working for someone else.

  • http://www.BuildingMyTribe.com Amy McDaniel of BuildingMyTribe

    I have been doing a lot of research about this very dilemma. I believe the answer is to create an initial first impression product- but it is one that is very simple and directly addresses the most pressing question/concern of your target audience.

    Then, instead of charging for that product, you give it away in exchange for an email address. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this “opt-in” offer is truly a product.

    But, instead of receiving money compensation for it, you are getting a real person into your community who you can now communicate with and build relationships with. That, too, is an asset just like money- in fact, it is the best asset for community/platform builders.

    Then, as your audience grows from the result of your initial product, you can get your followers’ feedback, get to know them more and learn more about what else they need or desire.

    At that point, you create a higher value product for your community and have more assurances that you are creating the right product. . . plus you have a growing community that already know is interested in it.

    I am new to community building so this is my conclusion for the NEWBIE community builder like myself. . . and I arrived at it after researching the issue and speaking to quite a few successful community builders.

    The only way to find out how well (or bad) it works is to try it out! I am going to try this approach and see how it goes!

    Amy

    • http://www.cubiclefree.com/5steps/ Quinn

      Thanks Corbett – terrific post.
      Any method can definitely work, however like Amy I really like the strategy of creating an ‘initial impression’ product first.
      I have recently created my ‘initial impression’ and now I am in the trenches with people who are using my ideas and as a result I am on an important learning curve for understanding the needs of my audience at a deeper (monetized) level. This step could easily save me many months of hard work.
      That said, I have also built a business in the past with the product first but in that instance I was serving a need I personally new very well so I knew it had to work….
      I think success is closely correlated with a conviction that your product can solve a need. This conviction enables you to persever and ultimately ‘sell’ it.
      Quinn

  • http://deandeguara.com Dean Deguara

    Blogging started out as a hobby, I started to get an audience and now I’m trying be more deliberate in building a community that I can one day develop a product that will benefit them.

  • http://daniel-marin.com Daniel Marin

    I believe that you can do either approach, but I’ve learned that if you are going to start by building an audience and are thinking about adding products…you shouldn’t wait too long before offering a product.

    Your audience should know you’re running a business from day one. Otherwise they might feel betrayed or offended…still don’t get why, but thats what I’ve seen.

    Cheers

  • http://wp-themes-pro.com Alexandre B

    Hi Corbett,

    I’m a supporter of the MVA before the MVP. I believe that’s better to establish trust before selling any products (for web based business).
    That’s the path I followed and it worked pretty damn good. I’ll release my first product next week !

    If you plan to give a shot to this approach first, be ware of the blogging trap ! That’s very insidious…

    The cure ?

    Execution !

    As Gary Vaynerchuk says : “I’ve been fucking executing since I was 14.”. That’s that simple, do your homework.

    All the best
    Alexandre

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Congrats on the upcoming launch Alexandre, good luck!

  • http://Www.cfdandspreadbettrading.com Chris Hutchings

    Great post as always and one I wish I’d read a few months ago.

    I started with a product and added a blog afterwards, wish I had done it the other way round to build authority first.

    Never mind what’s done is done and now concentrating on writing epic shit to try and solve the issue!

  • http://www.getmorecorporategigs.com Barry Friedman

    I used my ‘ethical bribe’ to build my audience and research what they wanted for my product. Winning combination! The EB is a 7-day free course that centered around core conflicts I KNOW they have, and the course goes into huge detail about identifying and curing the problems. Great piece, Corbett.

  • Veso Mitev

    Honestly, it depends on the situation.

    I’ve done the mistake of making of offering a solution for non-existing problem far too many times.

    Yet it depends on the situation. If you are walking a charted path (for example offering something updated, add-on, or something that has defined demand) then you can go with the product.

    And if you are offering something new that don’t have much similar alternatives – then it will be very good idea to test it before going all-in.

  • http://theaterforthefuture.org/ David Summers

    Why not build the buzz without a product. kind of movie stuff?

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Doesn’t buzz for a movie usually start while the product is in development?

  • http://www.2have2be2do.com Darius B.

    Interesting topic and very relevant too.

    I started out with the first approach: created a blog, put content and tried to build an audience. However, this wasn’t working for my goals:

    a) The goal was that content on the site was actually implemented instead of being a form of procrastination.

    b) I realized that I am unable to create top notch content both for my site and for guest blogs without sacrificing other areas of life. Something I advice very strongly against. As my topic is personal growth and lifestyle design I need to be the guy in the field, actually accomplishing things in the real world (“practicing what I preach”) instead of just sitting behind the keyboard writing how everything will work out if only you’ll send positive vibes into the universe (yuck!)

    So what I did is I removed all the content from my blog and instead made a product – an interactive ebook. I call this “alpha version”: the design is flawed and not as pretty as I’d like to be, I wasn’t able to implement all the features that I thought off (turns out it takes quite some time to master Adobe products :) ). And even though the product is not perfect, I’m giving my readership all my best stuff in a methodical step-by-step approach.

    I provide this product for my audience for free, for joining the e-mail list. So that’s step 1.

    Now that I have my alpha product I can focus more energy to guest blog and build the audience.

    Also, because I am giving my main product and provide an easy way for my audience to connect with me, I hope to get as much feedback regarding the product as possible: which parts are not clear, what other issues people encounter that I did not.

    I will later re-launch the blog part of the project to address particular feedback that my actual audience, who are working with the product, encountered.

    Since starting this (a month ago), I noticed that this approach also had it’s flaw: because I am not promoting any content, except for the actual book there is very little communication between me and my audience. To address this I will be launching a side project (a special “daily motivation” facebook page).

    Will this work? Early to say, but I’ll make it work, somehow.

    I’m sharing this because it would be interesting if someone more experienced would point out flaws in my logic and maybe give some ideas to others.

    Cheers

  • http://www.mansmarts.com Xanthin Smith

    “Build it and they will come.” Product first, audience second, partnerships third.

    Product first because it gives you instant credibility and authority.
    Anyone can blog but not every one can create product.

    Bottom line, people respect you more for what you do (products) than what you say (blog).

  • http://www.infopreneursite.com Paul Kridakorn

    Hello Corbett

    I had this experience before. I spent years building audience and I think I have them on track so I build product (an e-book) but most of them think this is for a laugh.

    When I announced my pre-launch, they said “thank you, you so kind” — they thought I made it for free for hobby! When I released, I set price damn cheap but only made 1 sales!

    I really disappointed and I totally drop that site and fan page. I move on and build another site and fan from scratch. I did some research and I start building a product along with building and audience. It took 3 months from zero to Blog+1600 fans in Facebook Page+100pages e-book. Very hard work but I made a hundred time more sales that the first one in a single day.

    So, the conclusion is, make some research and build both along and try to keep balance. I think we should have a first product out in the first 6 months, longer than that they will think you blog for fun, I think.

    Paul

  • http://www.zell-weekeat.com Zell Liew

    Hey Corbett,

    This post really came at a correct time. I’m stuck between creating a product first, or to create an audience first.

    If I were to create a product, probably no one will know about it and motivation may fizzle before it becomes anything successful. However on the other hand, if I get an audience first, there is always an incessant fear within me that sort of keeps me from charging them because well.. they’re so damn precious.

    It might also be the case that I’m saying this because its really my first time trying to create a blog, and I’m having a hard time directing traffic over there at the moment.

    What I believe deep down is that you’ll need both an audience and a product, and you cannot do without any one of them. But I upvote grabbing some audience first, and creating something that they want.

  • http://www.everydaylanguagelearner.com Aaron

    Corbett,

    Your spoiler alert is spot on! Both can work. Both have their pitfalls. Starting with the audience first can cause said audience to see you as a sort of information saint, giving away all this great free information as a hobby. When you move toward creating product then, there can be some backlash. Starting with the product first could create a sell, sell, sell feel to a blog – no one likes a used car salesman. So both work if you do it well – and we only learn to do it well through trial and error. But starting without a clear business idea (the way I did) and then trying to transition into a business model is tough.

    I started blogging to help language learners who were disempowered, were under informed and ill equipped to be independent language learners – all they knew was “go to school.” I now have four ebooks and an online course. I’m still trying to figure out how to do better at selling those – I have 2,000 subscribers and still haven’t hit it out of the park . . . yet.

  • http://www.LindaCaroll.com LindaCaroll

    It’s all relative, though. Because the entire question of product or audience first only applies to startups deciding what to sell. But if you own a yoga studio or 25 acres of coffee trees or a small and struggling health food store, you already have a product.

    For start-ups, I’d say the first step is to determine/choose a field of expertise. Because if you’re not writing engaging blog posts in a field of expertise, you’re blogging socially. And if you’re blogging socially, then you will end up needing to figure out how to “monetize” your friends – and that’s always awkward.

    So even if you don’t have a product, you probably do (at minimum) need to determine a field of expertise so you can write to draw potential customers who would want to buy relevant products. :)

  • http://microtasker.net/ jamie

    Hey Corbett
    I think you have nailed it here…
    “A product without an audience is a solution without a problem.
    An audience without a product is a hobby, not a business.”

    I’m learning from you and Think Traffic that researching the market and blending solutions with your passions is key to developing ideas for your blog topic. When you communicate with your audience – ask them what they would like most as a solution to their problem. This is what you guys and a lot of other successful bloggers seem to be doing.

    Man you guys have some Epic dookie on this site:)

    Jamie

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks Jamie, appreciate the feedback ;)

  • http://falconerwebmarketing.com Aaron Baldassare

    Starting out,

    1. Define your skills and passions. It’s best not to deviate far from this combination.
    2. Then find an audience that resonates with your style.
    3. You only need an audience of 1-3 before you start building your first small product. Make it small and deliver it quickly.

    Then you will be building your audience and developing your customer experience at the same time, as long as you are in business.

  • http://www.offpeakluxury.com Barry Mills

    Whichever you think you do first, the answer is product. The great successes in content marketing have come about by spotting a gap in the market for content, and delivering it well. You will never build a big audience with un-original or half hearted content that exists only so you can build an audience. If you spot a niche and fill it well, then the content IS your product. Unless you have spotted a real gap in the content market that you can fill well, or have ideas for unique content that you have good reason to believe will be popular (or can test without wasting too much effort), you shouldn’t be even thinking of trying to build an audience first.

    • http://falconerwebmarketing.com Aaron Baldassare

      That is a good point, Barry. There are audiences waiting. Also, whatever you do to build a business, it could be thought of as a product.

      It reminds of something Eric Ries said: “Your product is the customer experience.” The customer experience is the product.

  • http://lifestoogood.net Alan | Life’s Too Good

    This is a wonderful thought-provoking article Corbett. I haven’t been reading much online recently but this one caught my attention.

    I love the idea of MVP and also Brian Clark’s idea of using the same concept building a minimum viable audience – and I think you’re right, you need both – particularly these days and particularly for online (i.e. non-local) business, probably because the currency of attention is becoming just as important as money.

  • Stephen

    I agree 100%, Corbett. There is no “correct” answer. It very much depends on what and to whom you’re selling.

    With my eBook (in a very niche health area), I wrote the book first and then created the website. I was confident in doing it this way because I had already been researching what this market wanted. For years, in fact. So knowing what their “pain points” were, I wrote a book that addressed and solved for those pain points and then unleashed the website. That approach has worked well given my prior, deep knowledge of this market.

    I fear that if I had done it the other way, I would have established myself as an expert but would then raise eyebrows when I tried to monetize the site. Plus, I’m not sure I would have even gotten around to creating the product if I went this route, as building an audience itself can become a full-time endeavor. It would have been very hard for me to build the audience first and then create the book.

    HOWEVER, I will soon be building a niche affiliate site (high-quality video reviews of certain health products), and I am taking a slightly different approach with that. I will have affiliate links in the reviews and epic content, while simultaneously building an audience. In this regard, the product and audience building are occurring at the same time.

    And of course, I am approaching this site with the idea that I will inform consumers and give them a ton of free, valuable content. If they happen to buy when they’re on the website, cool. If not, I still hope the content serves them well and provides them with a lot of value. With this site I’m very much taking the “help others first and the money will come” approach instead of the hard-sell, “buy this now!” approach. I call this the “Pat Flynn” or “Corbett Barr” approach: establish trust, authenticity and authority first, and the rest will mostly take care of itself. :)

  • http://byehighschool.org Nikki

    Great article. I think I needed to see this to reassure myself, since I’m kinda far in to what I’ve been doing.

    I started ByeHighSchool.org because I wanted to help young adults avoid all the unnecessary stress I put myself through in the transition period after high school. Totally genuine.

    So I’ve been working on the audience. GA says I’m doing consistently better each week. Cool.

    I’m a copywriter by trade anyway, so I’m smack dab in the middle of writing the outline for a résumé -writing course and ebook.

    That’s when it hit me that I should start something like an early career development consultancy type business.

    I’m guessing my service (workshops, seminars, résumé writing, consultation sessions, etc.) would be the product serving an audience I’d already started building?

    What do you think?

    I definitely plan to keep the blog going.

    But I have a lot more research to do as far as consulting goes. I’m sure there are certifications I’ll be interested(and required) in getting.

    Any suggestions?

  • http://lucidability.com Jamie Alexander

    I wish I build a product sooner. My site has been up for about a year now and I think it would have made life a lot easier.

    I think having a sales funnel in place as soon as someone signs up is important. I could have spent the last year tweaking the funnel, but I can’t do that now.

    My product is a few weeks away and it is only a MVP, but at least it will get me into the business mindset and I can start learning how to write copy and split-test stuff.

  • https://twitter.com/MosesKerub Moses Kerub

    I saw your tweet and found myself today talking with my friends at work about this.
    In the end it seems to me that there’s a one big answer.
    You have to have a product first.

    and you have a product first, you are just probably giving it away for free, so you can build trust and a larger audience. AKA – Your first product is your content.
    Otherwise, why are people starting to follow you? because they love your product.

  • http://www.adaptdnation.com Cody Stevenson

    Another great topic Corbett! I have tried creating the products first, but it never worked for me.

    My first business had a community built around it before we released a product. Let me say it was one of the easiest things I ever sold. With the community already in place, the product was being begged for. We also knew exactly what our customers wanted.

    Essentially our customer told us what product they wanted before we even decided to monetize. Once we took action, we grew at amazing rates.

    Cool to see others thoughts though. Knowledge is power.

  • http://lifestoked.com/about Deacon Bradley

    You need both to have a viable business (which you said). From my experience the key is to iterate FAST enough that the question of where should I start doesn’t matter anymore. If you go into your cave and spend 3 months building a product, it better be an Apple computer (and it better be 1976). If you spend too long on your audience, then you may miss some valuable opportunities.

    Great conversation here Corbett.

  • http://jetsetcitizen.com John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    I like the idea of building a minimal viable product and minimal viable audience at the same time. Like you said both are necessary.

    However, I’m starting to thing that it’s easier to attract an audience with a great product, then it is to build an audience with just content.

    A great product, with a great story can be a better differentiator than just content alone. Success of the product is also the social proof that makes it easier to build an audience.

    Pat Flynn’s early success was helped by the fact he was making $200,000 per year from his LEED exam product.

    AdsenseFlippers built an audience because they were making tens of thousands of dollars from selling sites.

    TropicalMBA had a million dollar real world business that gave their content credibility.

    Tim Ferris has a massive audience because of the success of his book, not the other way around.
    Other examples might be AppSumo, Udemy, 37Signals.

    Content creation is important, however, for a comparable effort, I’m starting to think that better returns can be earned by focusing on products first.

  • http://LearnHotDogs.com Cash

    Audience first is what did it for me. I built a site, made videos, created content that would engage them and then I began to offer products. My 2¢.

  • http://www.excusesvslife.com Sandra

    I think a good business grows and develops over time and that’s what I expect my audience to do. I expect them to change as my business moves forward and develops and my product is clearer to me. There’s a blog I used to read regularly until the blogger became full of himself and the posts were about his wonderfulness. That’s okay as I don’t read that blog anymore but many do and many of those wouldn’t know what the blog used to be like. I think that even if the blog is a business selling its product e.g. how to improve your life/finances/relationships it still has to grow and change with the times. My blog is about removing excuses so you can reach your goals but I’m as big a guinea pig as my readers are to themselves in this journey:)

  • http://www.RebootAuthentic.com Gary Korisko

    Corbett:

    This is the kind of useful, practical advice I know I can always get here at ThinkTraffic. And it served as validation for me. As it turns out, I was using the “minimal viable” strategy without even knowing it and (until now) was doubting my rationale.

    Since early on, I’ve had a free product which serves as kind of my platform. But lately as my audience has grown due to a guest posting campaign (including one here – thanks!) I find that I am starting to get similar questions about similar problems from multiple subscribers.

    So I have decided to start working on (what I now will call) a minimal viable product for my audience that won’t interfere with my home blog or guest blogging content creation.

    Really – I was stewing over this. But you clarified for me that this is a smart move at this point in time.

    Great stuff! Thanks.

  • http://www.customwritingservice.org/ Doreen Dickens

    I believe the audience should come first before you introduce the product to them. The audience is the one that will determine the survival of the product. Great article though. Thanks for posting

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/102239271357671313305/posts Matthew Tulett

    The one big advantage of having an audience is that you can market many products to them, over a long period of time making it a very valuable resource.

    Also Seth Godin uses his blog to see which articles get the most interest and uses these as the basis for his books, so your audience can also be a great source of inspiration.

    Since your audience should be well engaged, you will usually also find yourself with a very willing set of beta testers too.

    So treat your audience well and you will find yourself gathering both product ideas, testing and a market for them too!

  • http://www.sereneseo.com Rick Allen

    I personally prefer the build the audience first approach. Once you develop a significant following, you can still come up with a new product or service even if your original ideas no longer seem to fit the audience you have developed. If you get the product wrong, however, you just end up with a product that you can’t move.

    The other point I would make is an audience tends to stay with you longer than they would with a product. AOL was once a revolutionary service and now the company is barely given any thought. An audience who follows a person they perceive to be giving them value, such as Corbett, will remain followers as the marketplace evolves. At least I have!

  • http://howtowriteandplaygreatmusic.com Rocky

    I think building an audience is WAY more important than building a product. This way you can shape your product to your audience’s needs.

  • http://jeanniespiro.com Jeannie Spiro

    Good question Corbett and it’s something that actually held me back in my business for a while.

    I kept thinking I needed a product and once I had one my market would follow.

    I have a service based business and the first year I was in business I created several products thinking that I was supposed to have them. But I realized two things. 1) I needed a big list to make significant money from my products. 2) My business really needed a signature “system” that could be monetized in the form of courses, products etc.

    So I built my list, created my system and developed products. That’s when things finally started to click.

  • http://www.bloggingcage.com/ Kulwant Nagi

    Corbett, you have started a topic which can be extended at a very big level in commenting section here.

    According to me when we start any blog then we have clear idea in our mind what we are going to do and which audience we are going to hit. So selecting a product will not be any issue because at the end we are going to sale something to our audience.

    But the very first step will be building the audience and help them to get their issues solved. So one can go in any way to get into online marketing.

    Thanks for this great share.

  • http://www.copyblogger.com Brian Clark

    Glad to see you talking about the minimum viable audience, Corbett. ;-)

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks Brian, I’ve loved the concept since I first heard you talk about it. I’ve mentioned it, and your original article here a few times. Cheers :)

  • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck (@sarahkpeck)

    Love this advice. I’ve seen several people sell something first–and then create it–to test the market and need for what they are offering.

    The problem with focusing too heavily on building an audience first is that you might inadvertently create the WRONG audience. What good are 5000 people who don’t ever want what you’re selling? (They want blog content, and that’s it?).

    I think the more specific you can get about your audience, the better. For a business to work, you don’t need a large audience, you need the right one. If you only need 1 paying customer each month, figure out how to make that person your audience. If you only need 20 paying customers a month, figure out how to reach them and create a space for that type of audience. It’s not always about having an audience of 50,000 when your business might only need 10, 15, or 20 people to be a thriving business.

    On the flip side, if you spend so much time creating something without doing market research–even “I’m building a product for X person and it will do Y, would you be interested in something like this?” — you’re setting yourself up for a huge risk of failure and wasted time. Test as quickly as possible and realize that you may have to iterate.

    I recently launched a writing program because I realized that if I didn’t test whether or not my audience wanted it, I would never know. As disappointed as I would have been if no one had signed up, I realized that (a) that was valuable information to learn quickly, and (b) I would then re-focus my efforts on finding an audience that wanted the product, or a better product fit for my existing audience.

    Luckily, however, my first offering sold out, so I’m grateful that what I have to offer is what people wanted, too.

  • http://www.automationprimer.com Frank Lamb

    Interesting post. In my case I am doing both on two different sites. On one site I already have an audience and am introducing a new product, my book. I can’t sell the book directly since it is with a traditional publisher, McGraw-Hill, however I can promote it. This site has been up for a couple of years and has a decent audience but has never had a product until now.

    My other site is a business site that I am designing using Danny Iny’s Audience Business Masterclass. I have completed my opt-in incentive to collect subscribers but haven’t implemented anything on the site yet. In this case the product is consulting with some paid e-books and forms in the works. When the site goes live the product will already be in place.

    It will be interesting to see the difference in results and be able to compare first-hand. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  • Pingback: May’s Mini Best of the Web | Firepole Marketing Blog

  • http://agilelifestyle.net Tony Khuon

    Your solution to the problem of audience v. product is clever. It’s similar to Lean Startup and Agile techniques. Even if you go with the audience-first approach, you still need to have some idea of where you’re heading in terms of product. I wouldn’t be afraid to iterate, but it would be difficult to create a product in many niches.

    Thanks for the insights, Corbett!

Up Next:

The Blogging Trap

Blogging can be an incredible platform to build a business around. Blogging is a perfect way to become recognized as an expert in your field. But blogging can also become a trap that keeps you from your real goals.

The Sparkline — a blog for independent creatives and entrepreneurs building matterful things.

% Stay inspired, productive + on track—get a weekly email from us. Short n’ meaty, built for speed. Get it Weekly