I often get asked, “Is retail the right place for my product or should I start somewhere else?” Now, there are many factors that would go into answering that question fully. It is not one that can be determined from a simple tertiary look at a product or brand. That said, there is one question that is more important than just about any other: Where is the unmet need my product fills or the problem it solves most acute?

Understanding that is vital to the development of a good channel strategy. Most reading this are involved in bring disruptive, innovative products to market. Products that are doing something different from the others in the category, or potentially even creating a whole new category. So, where is the intersection between your product and that moment of need. Find that and you’ve uncovered your best chance for consumer traction.

As I write this, I realize this reads a bit conceptual rather than actionable. So, let me offer some concrete examples.

You are bringing a new product to market. You’re taking the beverage out of the bottle, let’s say in the form of a single serve stick pack. Where is it that the need is most immediate or the problem the most challenging? It’s not where there are ready-to-drink options. It’s not likely at home. Rather, it is when we are on-the-go, traveling, working out, sitting at our desks. It’s when we cannot fathom yet another sip of water from our Hydro-flask. Where is that intersection? It’s in the airport concessionaire, the micro-market in the employee breakroom, the outdoor store where you by your hiking supplies. Maybe it is at the gym or yoga studio, and of course online, where I can buy it while I am thinking of it and stock up my backpack and desk drawer.

Let’s look at a different example. You are introducing a functional coffee creamer. Your hypothesis is that you can capitalize on an existing habit and replace non-nutritive empty calories with functional beneficial ones. Where is that intersection? Certainly, the local or national coffee chain. Maybe the employee breakroom. But also, retail. Remember, in this case, you are trying to parlay an existing habit. How do consumers supply that habit? In the dairy case at their local grocery store. If you want to steal share, you need to be on that same shelf.

One important note is that intersection moves over time. Using the first example, as people begin to integrate the use of the product into their daily routines, they are going to start wanting to make that purchase where they buy everything else. Maybe that’s when you make the move to retail.

The above are both very rudimentary examples. There are countless other variables that would go into a channel strategy such as economics, supply chain, accessibility, and more. However, starting with asking the question; where is the unmet need my product fills or the problem it solves most acute, can be a powerful tool in helping you determine the most effect path-to-market.