One question to rule them all

Every once in a while someone asks you a question that causes you to lean back in your chair and scratch your noodle.

In my case, this question is usually very simple, and something I’d never thought to consider.

This post is about one such question.

But first, some context:

Now, most marketers, creatives and hell, even some sales-people, will puff out their chest and proudly tell you about the importance of picking an audience.

They’ll say when you’re trying to change, influence or sell someone you’ll want to know about their needs. You want to know what makes them tick, how they view the world and what’s likely to cause them to react.

That is to say, they have some understanding of who it’s for.

What often goes forgotten is that by doing so we inadvertently create a portion of the population who this message will not appeal to.

In fact, if done right, we will create something that, like it or not, some people won’t like. And that is a GOOD thing.

An example please, squire:

Suppose you’re running a business selling a new type of single roast coffee bean.

It’s picked fresh from the fields of Ethiopia and targeted to young, Melbourne hipster types that take their coffee seriously.

The converted warehouse cafes are going wild for it. The product is selling well. Your business is booming.

In fact, business is going so well you’re starting to believe maybe this coffee is for everyone. I mean, who wouldn’t love such a well balanced, floral and aromatic cup of silk?

Then, you receive an email from a tea-drinking middle-aged type who thinks your business is stupid.

They can’t understand why anyone would pay $4.50 for coffee when you can get a $1 from 7/11. They wonder what difference does it make? Coffee is coffee, right?

You read this one email and proceed to ignore all other positive feedback as you’re thrown into a sea of doubt.

Maybe they’re right.

Maybe these beans are no different to International Roast.

Maybe I should sell my company.

Hell, I should probably sell my house too.

I could move back home with mum and dad. Drive an Uber. I mean, that’s about all I’m good for.

The Olong tea drinker said so himself.

Enter: the question

Taking the same example, how might we have reacted to the email if we’d previously asked the question:

Who’s it not for?

What characteristics might we have listed out?

Tea lovers perhaps?

Non-coffee drinkers almost definitely.

We weren’t trying to sell people on the benefits of coffee over tea.

Instead, we were selling to those who were already as passionate about their coffee as we are.

Doesn’t it stand to reason then that one measure of success, albeit unconventional and a bit brash, could be: did we annoy those we set out to annoy?

Or more eloquently: Did we successfully articulate who this product/service/creative endeavour is NOT for and execute on that?  

In this case; did we successfully confuse passionate tea drinkers? Why, yes, yes we did.

We did so because we had a message and an offering that successfully sold our quality coffee to those who believe in the story behind it.

Easier said than done

 To be clear I’m not trying to throw away or undermine the focus of who’s it for? In fact, I would argue that having a deep understanding of and empathy for your customer is the most important part of any change you’re seeking to make. 

What I am trying to offer is an alternative frame to the way we perceive apparent “negative” feedback.

And yeah, I get it. It’s not always that simple.

Especially when we put so much of our time, effort and energy into something. It’s hard not to let it hurt when someone doesn’t like it.

We want everyone to love all of our ideas, our blogs, our books, our podcasts, our products and our services. Yet I think deep down we know this just isn’t possible. Nor is it the point.

So next time you create something, anything, targeted at a certain group of people, ask yourself:

Who’s this not for?

List the characteristics out in as much detail as you can.

Then, when someone inevitably feels the need to tell you they don’t like your idea, smile to yourself, check your list and think “that’s okay, it’s not for you”.

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