The Demand for Demand
My sister spent a number of years working at a business incubator. She told me that the single biggest mistake she saw entrepreneurs make time and time again was to create a product or a service before they knew whether or not there was any demand for it.
These incubated folks would disappear into their labyrinth for years, only to re-emerge and debut their business tour de force.
Not surprisingly, none of these businesses were ever formally launched, or, once launched (at great expense) proceeded to quickly fail.
Their leaders failed to first test whether or not there was any interest — or demand — for their business.
If you create a product or service before you determine whether or not there is a demand, you may very likely be wasting your time.
My 10-Year Struggle to Incite Demand
My biggest lesson in demand was a decade-long experiment in the live musical entertainment business: tribute bands.
If you’ve never heard of a tribute band, basically, it’s a band that plays only the music of one artist. Why tribute bands ever got successful in the first place is still a bit of a mystery to me, but suffice it to say, they are more popular by far than the classic “cover band” that plays a variety of music from a variety of artists.
To be fair to artists and musicians, truly great music is usually created in demand-free and completely market-agnostic conditions. Most artists don’t write songs based on market demand. And songs can become huge smash hits.
And people can also hit the lottery.
It’s a fair statement to say that the “artist” mentality clouds business judgement. Sometimes for “good” (you write a great song that brings hope and joy to millions and makes you rich) and sometimes for bad (you write hundreds of songs over the course of decades that no one ever hears).
If you know me, you know that I was a member of a band that, in the 1970s and 1980s, were icons of classic rock. Their music was the soundtrack of my own life in the mid-70s, and even caused me to want to learn to play the guitar.
Naturally, when I started my own tribute band, we decided to do the music of that band.
I found the absolute best musicians, vocalists and performers that Los Angeles had to offer. We worked our butts off to be the best, most entertaining and easiest-to-work-with band that ever was.
I put together a pretty great ensemble.
There was only one problem: getting gigs.
Why did we have trouble getting gigs? And why so much trouble getting repeat gig offers after what we thought were successful engagements?
“Hey, it’s just a numbers game. We need to get the word out”, said our manager at the time.
So we decided to double down on promotions. We hired three people to help us with promo. I built a great website. We were hyperactive in social media.
Our team called and emailed all the fairs, festivals, performing arts centers, casinos and agents we could find. We integrated a CRM. We had weekly meetings.
We continued to beat our heads against the wall with middling results. Our team was actually pretty darned good, and we did have some fun and profitable shows.
Even so, after all that work, our peak year of gigs was 37 shows. That sounds like a lot. But the best tributes work 80-100 dates a year. Some work even more and their tour grosses even register in Pollstar –the Richter Scale of the live entertainment business.
What were we doing wrong?
How I Tested Demand
I had started in digital marketing way back in 2003. As an SEO practitioner, I have a variety of techniques that I employ to determine if people are interested in some product, service, topic or thing.
One day I got the bright idea to try out a simple search in Google on “tribute bands”.
The key reason that we could not book our band more often was clear.
Google showed tons of results for “grateful dead tribute bands”, “beatles tribute bands”, “queen tribute bands”, “led zeppelin tribute bands”…Journey, KISS, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC…and on and on. Interest in all kinds of artists.
But where was “my” band?
Turns out, my “brand” band didn’t make the cut, as measured by searches, or interest, in the band. I searched all the way out to the 24th page of the Google search results. And there were no more results.
This is Google’s own data.
This is the reality of demand.
Classic rock purists might point out that maybe no one wants to see a tribute to this particular band. They want the actual band. That may well be true.
However, if there is sufficient interest in the music of a particular band, you’ll see it in the search results. You’ll get booked.
This is already happening with my new Queen and Beatles acts.
The long and short of it was, I created my business before I tested demand. Our business had to create “demand” from scratch, by slugging it out on the phone and by email.
Time-intensive, interrupt-style marketing.
The kind of marketing that no one wants to be on either side of.
I’ve since jettisoned most of my marketing efforts. Now I simply allow the few inquiries for this particular tribute show to come to me. It’s a much more relaxing and economical place to be.
Conduct a Demand Test
Test the demand for your own business.
If you didn’t know that you existed, what would you search for?
You’re someone who’s trying to solve a problem or answer a question.
You wouldn’t search for your company’s name. You would search the way a user would search: fairly generic terms, adding detail until you arrived at something approaching the answer you were after.
If you search in Google for something like “accountants near me”, “attorneys near me” or “dentists near me”, you’ll get a whole lot of results.
There is always demand for these types of services.
If your type of business shows lots of search results, chances are you’re in a good line of work –of course, that doesn’t mean that people will necessarily find your business.
If your search surfaces only your own website and a few bits and pieces more, you may be barking up the wrong tree.
Is there demonstrable interest in what your company does?
Is your business in demand?