So you’ve chosen a market to serve. Cool. Now, how well can you describe the value that your company brings (or will bring) to that market? How well do you actually know the market? Can you clearly describe the market’s participants? Can you describe their needs and wants? Do you know how your company produces value for them? These are questions every business should be able to answer to be successful.
A key to business success is providing something to your customer that is both unique AND valuable to them. It begins by understanding them in depth. Then you need to understand what sets THEM apart from other consumers. And clearly define their unique needs/challenges/pain points .
Some people will tell you that you need a passion for the market you serve; others will say you don’t need any at all as long as you see potential profit. I say the answer is a bit of both. While you may not have a burning passion for a specific business, you have to have enough that you enjoy working in that market and have an healthy interest in making it better. Too much of the first and you may start to lack objectivity about how to make things better. A bit of a disinterested viewpoint can be helpful at looking at new ways to be honest about the problems and to solve problems; and also to look for creative solutions from less conventional sources. Too much of the second and you won’t truly connect with the market (they will sense your disinterest). It’s possible to be successful without one of these, but I think much less likely.
Once you’ve settled on the market and its parameters, what are some practical ways to approach delivering a unique solution to the marketplace? I have a few ideas to share.
DIVE IN AND BE A SPONGE
Don’t be afraid to dive in and find out in-depth what challenges your market is facing. There are some practical steps you can take to soak up this info:
Read whatever information you can get your hands on about the market you have chosen. If the market has public companies in it, equity analyst reports might be enlightening as they keep their eyes on the market, its trends, and its players.
Find a way to meet people in your chosen market. Network. Ask others for introductions. Everyone you talk to ask them what the biggest challenges they face. Ask people you meet if you can interview them in more depth because you are trying to better understand their market and want to help solve the big challenges they might be facing. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to do this – especially if it’s about helping find good solutions for them, not a sales call for you.
When possible, ask how big a problem these key issues are (in financial terms if possible) and how they currently go about solving it (or other solutions they have tried). Ask what the shortcomings of those solutions have been. Ask what a really valuable, unique solution would look like to them. Understand that they may limited in how specific they may be here. Business people may have known that they spent tons of time and resources making multiple copies of documents, but they may not have been able to describe a copy machine.
The absolute best way to learn is to observe for yourself – and ask inquiring questions along the way. I recently shared an interesting article about how Target’s CEO goes that extra mile to learn what their customers need by actually visiting their homes (http://strib.mn/1o33zWI). Target meets them in person to observe their experiences with using certain products. There is an old story about how the product people from a market-leading laundry detergent maker actually went into consumers homes to what them do laundry. As they watched people reach their arms into the wash basin and swish around the detergent to mix it with the water (not the most pleasant task) the idea that dissolvability was perhaps a much bigger issue than they thought. They improved their product in that area – and highlighted this as a product attribute that would save time, mess, hassle, and a bunch of soggy arms. Sales increased.
DISCOVER THE MAGNITUDE
Seek out the key issues that face your market. You want to solve an important pain point for your market. Something that really matters to them. Something that’s truly causing them pain is an area to focus on. Those that are more minor inconveniences or small irritations, perhaps less so. But dig deep. Understand how big these issues are. Sometimes challenges may not seem significant; but as you dig further they are. And, yes, see if you can connect a financial cost to those problems, if possible. That will help give you an idea of how big the issues are – and possibly help you set a price point.
MAP SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS
If you already have an existing set of products/services, define how they solve these key market problems. Actually develop a map that ties your solutions to their big problems. Don’t rely on your marketing materials. Truly take a close look at how you solve their unique problems. This is where you’ll make real impact for your market. Any place you can target your product’s/service’s attributes to a real pain point is important. Consider stripping away any extraneous things that really add little or no value. Make the core functionality work remarkably well.
If you are creating a product or service, design it around these issues. There is often a tendency to build new products/services with as many bells and whistles as possible. A better approach is to build something that targets their main problems like an arrow.
FIND THE UNIQUENESS
Now that you’ve defined the market, the pain points, and the way you can solve them, it’s time to take an important yet often overlooked step – determining how your solution is unique. It’s really important to take a close look at your competitors. In any previous discussions with market participants and observers, you should have learned them who is currently providing solutions to the market, how well they address the pain points, and how they are different form each other.
Look at your solution-to-problem map developed above. Ask yourself which of these only YOU can deliver. Ask yourself honestly what unique attributes your business brings to the market. These unique attributes will begin to set you apart from your competition. And these are the areas you want to concentrate your product develop in as well. Make them solid differentiators for you.
One caution here as well. Ask yourself how easily it is for others to replicate what you have done. Know how high the wall is between you and them. You unique approach should build that wall…the higher the better. But it is common for us to overlook how others can follow us into those unique solutions
COMMUNICATE TO THE MARKET
Once you have the combination of market understanding, key areas of pain, how you address those pain points, and in what ways you do it uniquely, you are ready to clearly define. Imagine the power of a message that says to a market participant “I know you are having these sorts of challenges, they are costing you ______, there are unsatisfactory solutions available. We bring a unique approach for you to consider. Here’s what we do UNIQUELY that will solve those challenges.” Defined well and clearly, how could a market participant help but listen to what you have to say?
Center your brand, your image, your market communications (including social media) around these key areas. Relentlessly focus here.
Don’t stop there. Don’t ever stop improving. Continually look for ways to better solve the market’s issues. Always be learning. Always be asking. Always be aware of how the market and its needs are shifting and evolving. Stay on the front end of where the market is heading.
Delivering a unique, valuable product or service is not easy. It requires a lot of learning, a lot of planning, a lot of building. And, yes, the sand is always shifting under your feet!
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Helping companies develop ways to deliver incredible customer experiences is something I am very passionate about. I love helping our clients discover (and sometimes re-discover) how best to be successful. I know it’s not always easy to do. And sometimes businesses could use a hand either discovering those unique, valuable ideas, developing a strategic plan for building and delivering them, and/or implementing them. If you think I can help your organization sift through all that, feel free to reach out and get in touch. If you think you might need or want some help with all or a part of that process, call me. I’d be happy to chat with you and explore whether I can help. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore the idea a little. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com.
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