Start with the Market: Selling Ice Cream on a busy beach

August 3, 2020
Sandro Meyer
Growth Marketing

It seems so obvious, but selling into an existing market with a natural momentum is one of the best things you can do for your company's growth trajectory.

By Justin Jackson:

It's unlikely you'll convince someone to buy something where there wasn't already existing demand. Markets move towards desired solutions naturally; like folks lining up for ice cream on a hot summer's day. And it sure is easy to sell vanilla ice cream at the beach even when you’re right next to another ice cream stand.

Or put another way by the brilliant Brian Balfour, ex-VP of Marketing from HubSpot:

There are certain companies where growth seems to come easily, like guiding a boulder downhill. These companies grow despite having organizational chaos, not executing the “best” growth practices, and missing low hanging fruit. In other companies, growth feels much harder. It feels like pushing a boulder uphill. Despite executing the best growth practices, picking the low hanging fruit, and having a great team, they struggle to grow.

A lot of us (including me) have an inclination to want to invent something completely new that nobody has ever seen before. But while it sometimes seems more appealing and sexy to create a new market category or define one, it is also indefinitely harder or outright impossible.

Start with the Market

Brian argues the road to a $100M company doesn't start with the product. It starts with the market. When you target the right market with solid distribution channels and THEN "give them a product they're hungry for", you don't have to do much pushing or pulling.

So it all comes down to positioning based on market momentum.

Or in the words of April Dunford:

"If you do a good job picking your market category then you don't have to list every single feature, because it's assumed. I know what a CRM is! But, if you did a lousy job of picking your market category, you've got trouble. Now you're going to have to spend a significant amount of your sales and marketing energy [describing what you've built]. It's way easier to sell in an existing category (vs making a new one)."

Ignore Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Walt Disney and Thomas Edison

Whenever these ideas are brought up, I'll face something akin of "but Henry Ford also didn't just invent faster horses, he created something nobody knew they needed". Okay yes, but:

  • It's unlikely you are another Steve Jobs or Walt Disney. You might, but it's unlikely.
  • Do you really wanna play a game where your odds are one in a billion (creating a new market category) versus one in ten (participating in an existing market with momentum)?
  • Even radical innovators are generally responding to an existing market momentum (e.g. iPod was riding on the MP3 player wave).

Now again, this obviously doesn't imply you can't be the next Henry Ford and chase your dream of creating the next category-defining product. However, I think it is good to be aware and reminded from time to time that you also make your life a lot harder than it needs to be. And its also good to be reminded that you can join the likes ofConvertkit, MeetEdgar, Transistor, User List and Fathom that are plugging themselves into a growing, existing market.

This one business decision will decrease the resistance to all your growth efforts and maybe one day make you feel like you are selling vanilla ice cream on a busy beach (well almost) ;-)

The full article from Justin Jackson provides some good examples of companies who've done it right and gets you some further reading on the topic.

Also, please do yourself a favor and listen to this podcast episode 🎙️on the topic of positioning yourself for success.

Who wrote this essay?
Nice to meet you! We are Growth Bay, a growth marketing agency based in Zurich, Switzerland.
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