You can use an event to smoke test a problem, and to some extent, content that is attractive for your target audience. By organizing an event, you are confirming that your audience has the expected pain points. If you charge for the event, you are confirming they are willing to pay to solve their problem. And if you are ultimately creating a digital product, it can be used to smoke test the content or process you'd like to deliver digitally.
Who is actually interested in a problem?
How do I reach my target profile?
Are they willing to pay for a solution?
What exactly do they like and why?
Organizing an event speeds up your validated learning by scaling it up one step above one-to-one interviews. The goal is to create a safe and fun environment for your target prospects, in order to confirm what you've learned from individual problem and solution interviews.
An event allows you to create a product for your target market. By organizing one, you need to figure out how to reach your target market, what to say exactly, and how to create an experience that they find useful, pleasant, or inspiring.
The choice of format can vary widely:
Lecture by one or a few authorities
Peer-to-peer events like an unconference (e.g. LeanCamp)
Smaller and more intimate events like a LeanCoffee structure
Support groups like a mastermind
Networking or drinks
Conference (online or offline)
Live video streaming (e.g. Facebook)
This type of smoke test is easiest to organize in a larger city, where there are already lots of events and people. Even though an event focuses on your target clients in one location, it can be used to establish a more in-depth relationship, giving you much more information than interacting online.
Events themselves are attractive as a low upfront investment product. They can be considered valuable content. They can be used as a source of highly qualified leads (or a way to test a channel), leading into an upsell or presell of a different product/service.
Because an event is a mini-product in and of itself, it can be used to test a number of different hypotheses around related business models. Most frequently, events help with scaling up exploratory customer discovery. They help the most with exploring customers and problems. They can also be combined with other techniques, like basic landing page smoke tests (with a minimum audience size to confirm there is enough interest in the audience). Also they can be considered or combined with a concierge MVP, where the event is combined with delivering a service.
Most evening events will take 5-10 hours to organize. This will usually be enough for validation purposes. The biggest "time suck" tends to be finding a venue, particularly if you want to run a specific type of event. The event itself typically lasts 1-3 hours. The key is to make it long enough to seem valuable to the target audience.
Breaks during the event are critical. They give participants time to network, go to the bathroom, and eat or drink anything you've provided. They help consolidate anything learned. From a validation POV, breaks provide you with unstructured time to interview your target audience.
Find a venue that is appropriate to the type of event you want to organize.
Decide what you want to charge and how to pitch the event.
Create an event page on an appropriate platform: meetup.com, eventbrite.com, or another platform. Use insights about the customer problem and language from customer interviews to inform the event description.
Promote the event with your target audience, using suggestions from previous customer development about appropriate channels.
If appropriate, run a survey before or during the event to customize the event to audience needs.
Run the event. Be sure to have many unstructured conversations with attendees, in addition to the formal agenda and event goals.
Follow up afterwards with a survey. You can also create buzz on social media by sharing any photos, blog posts, or other artifacts from the event.
Because you can use events to prove many kinds of hypotheses, it's critical to be clear what you want to learn and why it's important for you--before you start organizing the event. As long as there is a clear cutoff value formulated upfront, you will find it easy to use events as a source of validation.
If using events specifically as smoke tests, you don't want to oversell the event. If your goal is to determine if there is demand around a problem, you should sell enough to make sure that the proposition is clear and easy to buy. However, a very hard sales push will distort your results. For example, if you are using:
High-pressure in-person sales techniques
Sales tactics on your event description with lots of scarcity and "CRO best practices"
You won't know if you are getting a clear indicator there is high demand, or if you are just a good salesperson.
"Get excited and enthusiastic when speaking at the smoke test event" - @LaunchTomorrow
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