I was at the top of the world. I just was written up in the New York Times front page of the Metro section (today’s NY/Region), was covered on dozens of TV programs, in newspapers and magazines around the world and had many more wanting to cover the business.
I was 29 years old and two years earlier, in 1991, started one of the first green retail stores in the country, Earth General.
I wore it like a badge that we were one of the first in the country selling over 3,000 different products, all screened for their environmental impact.
We had 16 different departments, from house wares, to office supplies, from body care to cleaning products and so on.
I was also cocky and thought I was invincible.
After all, the media loved us and so did our local customers. But not enough of them to build our company’s vision: to be the WalMart of green retail stores.
It was a hard lesson when we went bankrupt in 1998.
My cockiness was soon replaced with embarrassment and humiliation. We ended up losing over $1MM of our investors’ and vendors’ money.
My lesson: it wasn’t enough to have really cool products in our stores. For example, we carried solar-powered battery rechargers made from recycled plastic.
It doesn’t get much greener than that!
Instead, I learned (the hard way) that while you can have the best product or service in the world, it doesn’t mean anything if your customers don’t get it.
Also, customers not “getting it” is exponentially more difficult when you are the first to market with something.
Today, after having worked with so many entrepreneurs around the world, whenever I am approached by a cocky entrepreneur saying, “I/We are the first of our kind…” I politely listen until they are done.
Then say, “Sorry to hear that!”
Remember MySpace? Netscape? Boston Market? The list goes on.
Wouldn’t you rather be Facebook, iTunes or Chipoltle instead?
Yeah, being the first can be a serious drag on your resources. But being the second or third can be really great. If you know what you’re doing.
Customers not “getting it” doesn’t just come from being the first. In fact, the world is full of entrepreneurs with this challenge for other reasons as well.
Top 10 Reasons Why Customers Don’t Get What You Do
- Too Unique—your target market doesn’t really understand how to use your product or service.
- 2. Not Unique Enough—people have a hard time distinguishing you from the competition.
- Too Small a Market—your target market is not big enough to sustain the demand you need to thrive as a business.
- Too Complex—it takes too much energy for people to understand what you offer.
- Wrong Message—your marketing is landing flat because you are not speaking their language.
- Wrong Medium—how you are reaching out to your target is not what they use or need.
- Wrong Pricing Strategy—your leads don’t understand why you price the way you do.
- Poor Timing—of the “seasons” or cycle you sell your product or service (i.e. selling mittens in May.)
- Badly-Timed Launch—you bring your product or service out to market at a time the market is not ready.
10. Poor Understanding of Market—and what they are interested in, not knowing their psychographics.
If this were 1991 again, I would certainly do things differently. I’d really understand my customer’s pains, challenges and needs better.
Using this information, I would then build my solutions around this, and focus on delivering my message in a way they could hear it.
Action Steps for the Week
Struggling getting customers to quickly “get” what you do? Today with people’s attention spans near zero, this is an increasing challenge.
To make sure you do this correctly, do the following five steps:
- What is your why? Why do you do what you do? What is your story? Be able to explain it in less than 10 seconds. People buy on emotions, so give it to them!
- What is your vision? Where are you taking your business? What is the impact you will have on the world? On them?
- What pain are you addressing? Even if they are not aware of the pain you are solving, they will relate to it if you get this right.
- What is your solution to this pain? How will you make their lives easier?
- What is your marketing strategy? How will you get the market to know about you?
Once you answer these five crucial parts to building your strategy, then put in place your What, By When—a list of activities you’ll do and when you will do them. Make sure someone tests your assumptions and holds you accountable to make sure you get them done!
You do these things and you’ll be surprised with the results.