The first thing any entrepreneur looking to enter the market must do is survey the landscape.  While standing atop a hill and peering down at the city might sound like a fun activity, this has nothing to do with the landscape I'm talking about.

There are three questions you have to answer in detail before entering the market:

1) What is the market?

Without a clear concept of the market (or market segment) you wish to enter, you have no grounds on which to build your brand or product.  A concise yet accurate definition of the market helps you determine your customer, the most effective channels of distribution, avenues for advertising, and your overall brand image.

2) Who is already there?

Nearly every market has existing competitors.  Knowing who your eventual competition is and where they started will help you define your own path.  Nike was not built in a day, so you cannot hope to match their market offering immediately.  Know who your competition is and how they got to where they are in the market - this will help you define new market opportunities and the best route for growth.

3) Does the customer really need another product?

Why bother re-releasing something your customer already has?  Unless you can contribute a significant new feature or in some way eliminate more of the customer's pain, there is no reason to replicate an existing product.  There are several outdoors apparel companies in the world, so Nau was faced with this question while they laid the foundation for their company.  Rather than being just another outdoors company, Nau sought to define its products as "capable of contributing positive, lasting, and substantive change."  Without this distinction, there is no reason for Nau to exist - a fact its managers admitted from day 1.

After answering these three questions, you are ready to begin the rest of the branding process.  If you cannot answer just one of these questions, there is a very good chance your brand will fail before it ever reaches the market.

Would you add a fourth step?  If so, what would you add and why?