Minimum Viable Audience: A New Way to Identify A Great Market

(Last Updated On: 13 December 2018)

We can all agree that:

– Creating something is easy.
– Creating something that people care about is much more difficult.

The problem?

Most attempts to launch new products are based on a “cool idea for a product”. And then, a marketing team has to figure out how to sell this new concept.

Product-oriented marketing vs. Audience-oriented marketing

Products are born this way because it’s less demanding to start with an idea than with an audience.

That’s the wrong way to develop new propositions.

In the words of Seth Godin:

“You don’t find customers for your products. You find products for your customers.”

— Seth Godin

In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of defining your minimum viable market first.

And how to identify it.

A challenge: There’s no such thing as the mass market

It’s tempting to have the ambitious objective to serve a big market–the mass market.

But who’s the mass market? What do they want? What can you do for them?

Who is the average pilot?

In the 50s, the U.S. Airforce was trying to improve the design of the cockpit.

design-cockpit-us-air-force

The ambition was to find the size of the average pilot to make sure that every pilot could fit well into a standardised cockpit.

They needed data.

So they gathered the size data from 4,063 pilots and computed the average of the 10 physical dimensions believed to be most relevant for the new design–incl. height, arm length, and chest circumference.

Next, they compared the data size of each individual pilot–one by one–to the average pilot.

The result?

Big surprise!

Out of 4,063 pilots.. well.. not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions!

For example, one pilot might have a longer-than-average leg length, but a shorter-than-average arm length.

There was no such thing as an average pilot.

If you design a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’re actually designing it to fit no one.

Bottom line: Trying to please everyone requires to dilute so much what makes your proposition unique that you’ll end up appealing to nobody.

Interested in the topic?

Get my new book, The Value Mix. There, you’ll find more examples and details on how to identify and target the right market.

A solution: Focus on your Minimum Viable Audience

Creating a meaningful proposition requires to be specific.

If you want to make a difference for the audience that you serve, you must know them well.

The solution is to start by focusing on a Minimum Viable Audience.

Minimum (or Smallest) Viable Audience: A better way of approaching marketing

A minimum viable audience is the smallest possible market you can serve and that can sustain your business as it grows.

Definition of the minimum viable audience

In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin talks about the power of target a smallest viable market:

“Begin instead with the smallest viable market. What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?”

The advantage is that when you focus on a smaller market, you can make sure you serve it well. You can make a bigger impact, especially at the start.

Those who will miss you the most.

Before you think about scaling, start serving them well.

It always starts with a small market: The 100 customers who love Airbnb

Airbnb didn’t start with millions of customers.

They started focusing on making sure they could get 100 customers who loved their proposition.

This was their minimum viable audience.

“It was better to have 100 people who loved us vs. 1 million people who liked us. All movements grow this way. There was no way we could get 1 million people on Airbnb, but we could get 100 people to love us.”

– Brian Chesky, Founder & CEO of Airbnb

Being so specific helped the Airbnb team to create a proposition that people loved.

Example of minimum viable audience with Airbnb

They didn’t go for the average.

They focused on making a big difference for a small pool of customers.

The rest is history.

If you’re interested in more details about how to find your minimum viable audience, here’s the link to The Value Mix.

It’s about being their best option

When everything is one click way, we only care about the best.

People don’t want an average T-shirt. They want the best T-shirt.

This is what I realised when I started GoudronBlanc in 2012.

But how could I offer the best T-shirt?

I had to pick the smallest viable audience for whom GoudronBlanc would become the best option.

Quickly, I found that there was a group of people–our minimum viable audience–who shared a worldview. They wanted to be able to show up at work wearing elegant T-shirts.

Besides, they also cared about knowing how these T-shirts were made.

(More here about using worldviews to build the story of your brand.)

We were onto something!

We created the best option for our target audience: Elegant T-shirts made in Europe using organic cotton.

The smaller your viable audience is, the easier it will be for you to be the best at serving them.

How Minimum Should the Minimum Viable Audience Be?

In a great marketing article, Kevin Kelly argues that an audience of 1,000 True Fans is enough to make a descent living. If each of them spends $100 per year, it sums up to $100,000 per year.

One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.

Although Kelly refers to solopreneurs, his idea is a useful benchmark for any new business that is considering starting with a clear focus on a minimum viable audience.

What about the exact number?

It could be 1,000 or 5,000.

The exact number doesn’t matter. What matters is writing down a number that you feel comfortable with.

In Kelly’s words:

There is something important and liberating in seeking a finite attainable number of passionate fans rather than hoping for a rare best-selling career backed by millions of folks who have just heard about you.

The right “minimum” depends on what’s “viable” for you.

Many factors matter. These include price, COGS, potential share of customer, and the size of your business.

Spotting the Right Customers with Content

What about starting with an existing… audience?

An increasing number of businesses have used inventive ways to lower market risks. Instead of starting with a product, they start with content.

Case study: Using content to build a Minimum Viable Audience

In 2004, Rand Fishkin started SEOMoz (now called Moz), a blog sharing tips about search engine optimization.

Moz built an audience before launch. The founding team quickly grew a following that trusted them. Their readers were interested in acquiring customers through SEO. The team understood that and started offering SEO consulting services.

By interacting with their Minimum Viable Audience, the Moz team figured out that consulting wasn’t enough. There was an opportunity to build some SEO tools that would help their customers do better SEO. Today, Moz is a successful SaaS business with over $30 millions in revenue.

All that just started as a blog about SEO back in 2004.

Here’s how Rand Fishkin feels with hindsight:

“This is a strategy I’d replicate again, far more intentionally, with any future venture.

(1) The greatest advantage initially seems like it’s the low cost of marketing you’ve generated by having a stready stream of people who already care about the problem you’re trying to solve visiting your site, knowing you, liking you, and trusting you.

(2) But, even more valuable is the deep experience you gain from spending so much time trying to provide value to and earn attention and amplification from the crowd you eventually want to serve.”

Any business can use content to spot emerging trends among its audience.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, who theorized one-to-one marketing summarise it well in Managing Customer Relationships:

“The enterprise learns more about its own strengths and weaknesses from each interaction and from the customer’s feedback, and is therefore able to market, communicate, and handle some aspects of its own tactics or strategy more efficiently and effectively than was possible prior to the relationship.”

Creating your own media can be an effective way to interact with your audience and learn from them.

And you’ll be better prepared for the launch of new products.

The Benefits of Having a Minimum Viable Audience

Having access to an audience of passionate people who love your content is a real asset.

Like Rand Fishkin, every entrepreneur can benefit from owning a media platform where they can reach highly qualified leads.

That makes marketing and innovation so much easier.

What’s different about using content to do market research?

The output of traditional market research is a report with lots of data and insight about your market and potential customers.

And hopefully, this will give you enough insight to spot opportunities, create a relevant value proposition, and make the right decisions.

The output of building a Minimum Viable Audience is different. You can still get a report with lots of data and insight.

But you get something else:

You built an asset.

Building a Minimum Viable Audience gives a continuous access to the people who interacted with you. These people can be your Early Adopters, they can keep helping you create and iterate your value proposition.

Unlike people in a focus group who leave the room anonymously once the interview is done; many people, who become part of your Minimum Viable Audience, stick around.

That’s a valuable intangible asset when you start a new business.