For a recent birthday, my family presented me with a gray Nordstrom box bound with a satin bow.
“This bodes well,” I thought.
I opened the box. Black and white polka dots peeked through the tissue paper. Nestled inside, a pair of Kate Spade pajamas. Yes! Two brands I love. A gift I’ll enjoy and think of my family every time it’s worn.
Understanding Your Audience Means Knowing the Little Things
My husband and daughter know me better than anyone else on this planet. They observe my patterns and actions, knowing that when I come home from work I shed the uniform and don a pair of pajamas. They watch and document as my taste in pajamas has changed from sweatpants and band tshirts to traditional pj’s in crisp broadcloth. They understand that this humble moment in my day—the shedding of one identity for another—signals I’m safe and can fully relax. They buy me gifts for these type of moments.
Do you know your customers this intuitively? Can they distinguish your product at a glance? Have you uncovered what will appeal to your customers on a deeply comforting, even primal, level?
It's Time to Go Deeper than Buyer Personas
You’ve done the work of sizing the market and segmenting your audiences. Perhaps you created personas that are buried in a PDF somewhere on the server. You’ve got loads of data tracking and analyzing their buying habits and preferences.
That’s all necessary. But you can go deeper. Let’s not forget the human layer. Yes, we are segments and targets, but we’re also parents, spouses, friends, caregivers. We’re a tapestry of relationships.
Think of it this way: Aside from your family and work team, who else do you spend as much time with as your customers?
Highly evolved brands treat their customers like loved ones, part of their inner circle. They know them intuitively. They know their strengths and weaknesses. The buttons to avoid pushing. The little things that bring comfort and relief.
Highly evolved brands can answer the following questions:
- Who’s buying?
- Why do they prefer my brand over other brands?
- What data supports this assumption?
- When in the buying process can I deliver on an unspoken need?
- Where are the opportunities to charge a premium?
They use the answers and results to orchestrate product, service and experience innovations that appeal to those humble moments in their customers’ lives. Highly evolved brands take action deliberately to strengthen the ties that drive loyalty and sales.
The Tools We Use to Help Our Clients Understand Their Target Audience
If you’re not already digging this deep, there’s a helpful tool in the Strategyzer Value Proposition Canvas. Strategyzer’s intent is to provide tools that help businesses break down the messy, time-consuming and expensive work of creating value for customers.
There are two parts to this specific tool — the Customer Profile and Value Map. What’s useful about Strategyzer’s methodology is the focus on value creation. And when you know what questions to ask, value creation equates to a tighter emotional bond with your customer.
The premise of the Strategyzer tool is that we expect products and services we buy to perform “jobs” for us.
- My morning espresso ritual needs to wake me up (physically and mentally).
- My car needs to drive me from point A to B safely in style and comfort.
- My cellular service needs to connect me to people and content when and where I wander, reliably.
All products and services have a job to perform.
To better understand how to weave your product or service into your customers' lives, the Customer Profile helps you explore three facets:
- Jobs: The things they’re trying to get done in their work or life. Jobs can be functional, social or emotional.
- Pains: The problems and aggravations they experience before, during and after trying to perform their jobs. Also includes the things that prevent them from doing the job.
- Gains: The outcomes and benefits your customers want.
The second part, the Value Map, requires a description of how you intend to create meaningful value that satisfies the customer’s unmet needs. Each section corresponds to the Customer Profile:
- Products & Services: A list of what you offer that helps your customers complete the functional, social or emotional jobs, or helps them satisfy basic needs.
- Pain Relievers: These describe exactly how you’ll alleviate the most extreme or pressing customer pains before, during and after trying to do a job.
- Gain Creators: This is the happy place, the section where you define how you’ll produce benefits or outcomes that your customer expects, desires or would be surprised by.
How to Use These Tools to Discover Product-Market Fit
You achieve the holy “product-market fit” when the Value Map corresponds to alleviating the issues from the Customer Profile. You don’t need to address every pain and gain that the customer might want. Focus on a few key things that will most impact the customer’s life and build your value propositions around that.
Of course, you won’t get to the love-love-love stage with your customers unless you explore the emotional territory. It's not easy to go there. Many of my clients struggle with this part. It's hard to know what questions to ask so you can engage in a substantive discussion around habits and patterns in the relationship. Begin by asking:
- What wakes your customers in the middle of the night?
- What scares the bejesus out of them?
- When were they last vulnerable? Or joyful?
- Why do they do the work they do?
- What are they working towards?
- Who’s most important to them?
- When and how do they relax?
Once you document your assumptions about your customers, you need to validate them. You can use the Value Proposition Canvas to help structure conversations with your customers and listen to what they are, and are not, telling you about their needs.
The Relationship Between Understanding Audience Needs, Business Models and Revenue Growth
In brand development, I use Strategyzer tools to help our team quickly understand our clients’ business models. I also use them as the structure for guided work sessions to help clients think about their customers in deeper ways, looking for those unanticipated touchpoints that can lead to new innovations or an opportunity to charge a premium. If you have the right people from your team in these work sessions, they’re invaluable for building consensus around audiences and value propositions—often the support you need to sell up your ideas to executive teams and boards.
I also rely on the Value Proposition Canvas to inform our research plans, as it’s always recommended to test value propositions and key messages before introducing them to your market. The assumptions documented on the Canvas inform survey development, focus group and in-depth interview discussion guides, and ultimately messaging frameworks, personas, press and marketing strategy, promotions and advertising. Invariably brand work becomes stronger and more emotionally resonant the closer you get to the customer.
Here are some results from using these tools with our clients:
- Gig economy startup: Through work sessions and in-depth interviews we learned that the audience was split 50/50 male to female, and that the pain point hinged on the impact of the task. Men looked that the task as a necessary nuisance. Women worried much more about the stress, inconvenience and detailed planning. This distinction impacted how we positioned and messaged the service, paying attention to how we could and reassure both audiences.
- In a work session for a tech startup in the plant and garden industry, we came to a quick realization that the customer focus needed to pivot from age and income to type of dwelling (single family homes, apartments and condos, townhouses). We also uncovered differences in motivations (choice vs responsibility) and stunning insights on what compels people to bring plants into their lives. The canvases impacted product development and fundraising.
- For a B2B cloud-services company, work sessions led to a shift in priority of audience. The assumption prior to the canvas development and testing was that a business-owner audience drove decision-making. In reality, it was the more technical of the audiences that needed to be prioritized in positioning and messaging—and they wanted no BS in their marketing. This pivot helped reassure investors (leading to an additional round) and align their brand with their customers’ values.
We’re all looking for that edge in our brand building and, frankly, gift giving. Why build something that doesn’t connect? Or give something that won’t be used?
Thinking of your customers as loved ones and working on that relationship, however you can, will yield deeper insights and greater loyalty.