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Ash RoyFeb 29, 2024 10:53:10 PM5 min read

Smallest viable market

"If you try to be everything to everyone, you'll end up being nothing to anyone."

This phrase is often quoted in marketing circles and for good reason. 

The big idea here is to be focused on the smallest possible audience so you can empathise with them and deliver a solution that delights them.

What does smallest viable market mean?

It's the smallest niche audience that can sustain your business. Most large organisations (even Apple) started that way.

They found the minimum viable audience that had a pressing need and solved that problem by creating a product. 

Apple focused on the artistic community and sought to find an intersection between the sciences and humanities. 

That's what the Macintosh was all about.

Here's the key idea: Rather than trying to appeal to a wide general audience, you should identify the niche market that has the most urgent need for your offering. 

In the marketing world this is often referred to as your minimum viable market. 

This is the only way I know of to build a business over the long term. And based on what I've seen it's by far the best way to do it.

Why you should focus on your smallest viable market

If you want to get the best out of your marketing efforts, you have to develop a deep understanding of your minimum viable audience's needs.

Once you identify the most pressing pain point your audience faces, you can then solve that problem with your offer. 

Most people refer to this as you minimum viable product. 

The idea here is to earn your 1000 true fans as explained by Kevin Kelly.

These fans will provide on-going feedback to refine the product and eventually become brand evangelists.

Serving your minimum viable audience is the only way to allocate your limited resources on the highest potential customers.

Your message doesn't get diluted, has better cut-through, and lays the foundation for future growth into adjacent markets.

Most business owners seem to miss this important insight. It's the first step you need to take as a business owner.

When I asked Seth Godin for his advice to entrepreneurs, he said 

"Right. So, the first thing which we just talked about is to stop chasing mass, stop chasing more, and instead focus on better – the smallest viable audience, 1000 true fans, as Kevin  (Kelley) would say."

He then went on to say 

... all the pressure is for you to make a commodity product. All the pressure is to make something that when someone searches for the generic, they will find you – that is SEO. Instead, make something non-generic that people will only find if they look for you, right? So if you want a Seth Godin book, a Seth Godin speech, or a Seth Godin workshop, there is only one person in the world who can give it to you. Whereas if I was trying to write generic books about marketing or trying to run a generic course to teach freelancers, I’d have to focus on stuff that would appeal to a much larger group of people because I’ll be casting a wide net and throwing most people overboard. But instead by obsessing about what only 1 million people need out of the billions on earth, I’m fine, and fine is a goal. You don’t have to be the winner. You just have to be fine. 

Those last 2 sentences really resonated with me. 

You don't have to be the winner. You just have to be fine. 

That right there is a trap most of us get caught in. 

We all have been hypnotised into believing we need to 'win' the game. We need to be the 'bestest' and get the 'mostest' 

But fine is a very reasonable goal.

And when you can come to terms with that fact, you no longer fear the idea of needing to appeal to everyone.

You're happy to find your smallest viable audience and overdeliver on their expectations so they tell their friends. 

How do you find your minimum viable market

A great way to start is to find the early adopters in your target audience.

The early adopters are people who are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and are willing to go out on a limb to see if your offer is going to solve for their pain points.

If it does, they're the people will likely sing your praises on social media and amplify your message and your brand. 

It's important to remember that creating an average product is never a good idea. Sure, you can't find the perfect answer to a lot of people's problems but you do need to create a high quality product for that small group of people that you've identified as your specific audience.

This is the first step to building a sustainable business. 

In my conversation with Seth Godin — author of Purple Cow — I asked him for his advice to small business owners who were in the early stages of launching their business.  

His advice was to find the smallest possible market, and build a great product that solved their problems so well, that they'd be keen to tell their friends about it. 

He explained that the days of mass marketing are over. In today's digital marketing landscape it's essential to focus on the minimum number of people and deliver the biggest possible impact. 

The best way to do this is to create a great product and then follow that up with excellent customer service. 

Conclusion (and recommendations)

Most small business owners make the mistake of seeking out the biggest possible audience but I have found this to be a mistake. 

If you're new to business and are looking to launch a new product, then find the smallest group of people you want to help. This is your target market. 

The first question you need to ask yourself is "What are their problem areas, and how can I create a solution that they'll be happy to pay me for?"

This is how you arrive at your product idea, and what will eventually lead to creating a new product for that small audience. 

Once you've got your product out there, the next step is to seek valuable feedback from your audience to improve incrementally. 

Given enough time, you'll build meaningful connections with your audience and you'll establish a strong personal brand in the market. 

Over time you can build more market share and expand to larger audiences, provided you continue serving the right people and your brand grows. 

This may seem like a long way to success but it's the only way that works. 

This is how all large business like Apple first got started. 





Ash Roy

Ash Roy has spent over 15 years working in the corporate world as a financial and strategic analyst and advisor to large multinational banks and telecommunications companies. He suffered through a CPA in 1997 and completed it despite not liking it at all because he believed it was a valuable skill to have. He sacrificed his personality in the process. In 2004 he finished his MBA (Masters In Business Administration) from the Australian Graduate School of Management and loved it! He scored a distinction (average) and got his personality back too!