It’s critical because it’s deep and the deeper you can go, the better at providing a service or making a product that not only solves a real problem, but in doing so enables you to make deeper human connections that lead to a sense of identification and belonging, and foster genuine loyalty.
It’s incredibly easy to mistake defining your target market purely as a business function. The thing is, it is a business function and an incredibly, undeniably critical one, but one nonetheless that’s based on human behaviour and emotion. After all, there is no business, no such thing without human behaviour. For all the ideas, products and services in the world, none of them make a business without human behaviour. And human behaviour is governed by relationships and emotion.
The reason it’s so common not to give proper gravity to defining and understanding your market or audience is because business and commerce have become bigger, or seem more important than the underlying drivers. ‘Business’ in that regard has become very corporate, clinical and technical, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be both intimidating and confusing. In small business, we often develop a mindset and expectations that our business is just a smaller version of those big businesses, those corporate players. In some ways that’s true, but one of the dangers of that kind of thinking is that we can overlook the fundamental realities, like actual relationships with customers, for the ticking of boxes on a business plan template.
On this I’m speaking from experience. With a formal education in business and marketing, you would think that I’d know better than to skim over this point, but I did exactly that. I was so keen to get started on doing the work and building my business, that I wrote a few things down, ticked the box, so to speak, and moved on to the ‘real’ stuff. And then it wasn’t long before I got stuck, became lost and confused and had to come back to this fundamental step. The one advantage I had was that I knew what the problem was. Many people won’t and they’l flounder around trying one thing after another, wasting time and energy trying to figure out why nothing seems to be working and why they’re feeling so miffed.
So let me try to explain it this way;
1. All business direction, marketing, branding, positioning and communication is a form of human connection.
Whether it’s a commodity, like selling gravel to construction companies, or a customised consulting service, the reason customers and clients choose to do business with you is because they perceive your business/product/service to be a good match for whatever their problem is. That is, they’ve made a connection between what they need and what you have to offer.
2. All human connection is a product of the way we feel.
That seems pretty easy to understand for a customised consulting service say, where how we connect or gel with that consultant has a massive impact on how likely we are to engage their services, but the same principle applies to commodity-type products. We have tangible needs that have to be satisfied, like price and speed of delivery, but we also rely on our perceptions for how well we believe our needs are met and the satisfaction of quality. You can tick all the boxes for a great product or service, but if a customer perceives your business to be disorganised and unreliable, then it’s through those eyes their final decision will be made - the way they feel.
3. The way we feel about a brand/product/service is determined by the way we experience it.
Talk is cheap and what you say, especially about yourself, isn’t enough. You can say your gravel is the cheapest, and it might be. You can say it’s the best quality, and it might be. You can say you achieve fast and reliable deliver every time, and you might, but if your website is a mess and the person who answers the phone in the office sounds like they’d rather be anywhere else, but there, it’s highly likely that potential customer will never find out.
And that’s for a commodity - think again about the consultancy or any sort of personalised service. The sakes are even higher because that potential client is looking not only for their needs to be met, but they want their values to be matched. They’re making a judgement call and they want to feel good about making the decision to work with you, to buy your product. It’s not a check-the-box situation, they want more - they want to feel like you’re the perfect solution and they’ll make that judgement according to the way they experience your brand/product/service. They’ll be looking for evidence of your values in everything you do, in every touch-point with you and your brand. They want a certain kind of experience and you need to know what that is is you’ve any hope of providing it.
4. Our experience is determined by how well a brand/product/service matches our world view and the things that matter to us.
Our world view is like the filter through which we judge and value things according to how well they appear to match our own values and the value we place on the needs we want to satisfy. Gravel might just be gravel, but does that mean you don’t have to worry about values, just because it’s ‘just gravel’? No, because there are plenty of other places to get gravel. After all, it’s just gravel. But if you understand why your customer needs the gravel and that it’s important that he can trust in your delivery efficiency because that’s what he’s promised his clients, then you have a chance to make a difference. It’s not up to you to decide what gravel means to him, it’s up to you to understand his world view and how gravel fits in.
To deliver the kind of experience your customers want, you have to understand how they think, what they value and how they want to feel. Yes, they want your product or service to do certain things and match certain criteria, but they also want to feel a certain way as a result of engaging with that particular brad/product/service. You have to understand what they value and why they value it so that you can communicate an understanding of, a match between you, your brand and their world view.
And when you think of it like that, it’s pretty clear that it’s not a check-box on a business plan template, right? Or rather that there’s a lot more to it than a mere check-box would suggest. Yes, it’s deep and yes, it can definitely seem daunting. And absolutely yes, it can be very tempting to skim over, but can you see how important it is not to skim? Can you see how important it is to take the time to go deep?
The more you know about your ideal client or customer’s world view, their values, their preferences, their desires, the more you understand about how they want to experience your kind of product or service, the more you know about how they feel, the greater connection you’ll be able to make with them. Connection is the aim, not because it’s a business function, but because it’s what we humans seek, it’s how we’re wired. And we’ve figured out along the way that without that connection there is no business, and seeing there’s no connection school or degrees, only business school and degrees, we gave it a business term and put it under the heading of ‘marketing’. I’m not knocking that at all, it makes sense, but if you’re going to make it work, then you have to understand that it’s a human thing first, and a business plan heading or check-box second.
I hope that makes some sense to you. It really bugs me when really smart small business owners, who are really good at what they do, second-guess themselves about what they know to be true because of intimidating business and marketing jargon. It makes me weep to see these bright sparks waste hours cranking out some meaningless business mumbo-jumbo trying to smarten up their act, become more ‘professional’, when the real answers, with the real feeling and the real knowledge of what they actually do and who their actual people are is so much more valuable. Business, commerce and marketing are just frameworks to explain, test and implement commercial outcomes, and we need them, they’re fascinating and very useful, don’t get me wrong, but underneath all of the terms and the systems and concepts is, first of all, human connection.
Back yourself and what you know to be true. Serve your people better than anyone and have a brilliant day.