Market Need vs. Insight

Recently, I heard an interesting interview with Peter Manning, Tony Award Winning producer turned clothing entrepreneur.  He is the founder and CEO of Peter Manning /Five Eight an online clothing store for men 5’8” and under.  Before starting his company, he knew 2 significant facts: 1) 25% of the US adult male population is 5’8” and under and 2) growing up his mother told him that once she hemmed the new pair of bell bottoms he was dying to wear, they wouldn’t be bell bottoms any more.

The first figure should make any potential CEO’s eyes light up—an underserved market size of well over 25M customers!  But it is the second datum that gave Manning the key to his success. The second fact, not one delivered in percentages but one that delivered insight, allowed him to create a product and brand that immediately resonated with his customer.  Clearly, there had been businesses that catered to this population before. These companies and their CEOs certainly understood the market size and the market need, but they didn’t have real insight into the customer.  For instance, one clothing chain called itself something to the effect of The Short Man Store. What!!? Others touted “extra small sizes” but finding those sizes in stock was a rare occurrence.   Manning knew he wasn’t catering to short men who were desperate to find something to wear; his customers were men who cared about how they looked (he admits that this is not ALL men) and who have had to endure paying a “tailor tax” for every off-the-rack purchase they have ever made.  His customers aren’t just men under 5’8”.  They are men that share the same experience.  

Understanding market size, market segmentation, available dollars, competition, and pricing will always be important factors in product development.  But it is not insight.  It can’t provide you anything that everyone else doesn’t have or can’t easily obtain.  It can’t tell you why a customer will find value in your product.  It can’t help you to refine your product to align directly with your customers’ shared experiences.     

Are you establishing the customer insight that is necessary to take advantage of the market need?