Specific, Sticky, and Shared
Have a clear picture of your target customer.
Seems easy enough. In fact, there’s a lot of nuance here, and it’s more difficult than we give it credit for. We’re all shooting for a big market, broad appeal, and widespread adoption. We design our interfaces to be as clean as possible, so they’re pleasing to everyone, and so we can iterate our way into a user base.
As I wrote in a previous post:
When I ask startups to really define who their target customer is, or who they want their first users to be, they often give broad characterizations – “social media-savvy types,” “twenty-somethings,” or “influencers.” Many even question the question, making the argument that Facebook doesn’t have a single type of person they appeal to. Well, I guess that’s what happens when your user base is a tenth of the world. And even so, I would argue there’s a relatively small set of personas that can describe most of Facebook’s users – that’s what makes clever takes like this so resonant. Plus, lest we forget, they certainly had a defined group they were targeting when they started: students at elite colleges. That adoption strategy turned out to be a stroke of brilliance. I’m all for a “launch and learn” mindset. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for not having a game plan.
Saying that your new product appeals to a really wide variety of people is essentially the same as saying you don’t know who your target customer is. And that’s likely to lead to an “ok” offering that gets lost in the shuffle.
So let’s assume you buy into the notion that you need to really define your target user. What’s the best way to characterize a customer? Well, let’s save discussing the relative merits and shortcomings of psychographic vs. demographic vs. behavioral segmentations for another time . I think when you’re starting out, simply having a clear mental picture of a particular person is good enough.
What does “clear” mean? Your image of your target customer should be: Specific, so it drives product decisions; Sticky, so it remains top-of-mind; and Shared, so the whole company is marching to the same drum.
You want your target customer to drive decision-making; to do so, you have to be able to say what would make them happy — and what would piss them off. That requires detail.
Thus, to an extent, the more specific an image you can create of them, the better. At the very least, try swinging too far in that direction. The easiest way to do this is by thinking about a single person. Sometimes it’s yourself, which is fine to start, but it’s not always, nor is that always the optimal launching off point. You might want to picture a composite of a couple people, but fight the urge to combine more than three — that typically turns into either a non-existent caricature or a watered-down amalgam. Just as importantly, whomever you conjure up, write down a bunch of traits they have — personal details, outlook on certain topics, what they like, what they can’t stand, what’s important to them. It may seem hokey, but trust me — it’s so easy to lose perspective when your down in the weeds, and having this list to refer back to will keep you in check.
Adding detail is important because too often we err on the other side, coming up with vague descriptions that encompass broad swaths of the population. We spend so much of our time thinking about how to get adopted by more people, and appealing to a wide range of people. But every journey starts with a single step. As Mark Suster writes: “Focus on basecamp, not the summit“. Similarly, Chris Dixon does a wonderful job building on Geoffrey Moore in his post “The bowling pin strategy“. (You know it’s a fundamental strategy because you can say it in many ways ) In essence, the goal is to knock down the first pin/ set of users, and to have a vision for how that will help you knock down the rest. That adoption strategy might change, but having one helps you chart the way forward.
One of the problems with most empathy building within companies big and small is that it’s treated as a one-off. “That was really great,” folks will say. “We should do stuff like that more.” Umm… yes! Empathy does no good tucked away in a drawer or the back recesses of your mind. You need to force it to the forefront.
Whoever your target customer is, print out a picture of them with those key characteristics, and tape it on your laptop or paper notebook. Some companies even make something akin to a baseball card and keep it in their wallets. If it’s a real person, talk to them regularly. If you don’t know them, meet them. If you don’t feel like you understand them, try behaving as they do. The key is to build up a deep gut sense of who your customer is and what he or she values. That way, when you’re contemplating a new feature, you can ask, “Would Harry want this?” When you’re designing a particular interaction: “How would Madison want this to work?” When you’re setting priorities: “What does James covet the most?” Considering this person should inform every product or marketing decision you make; it will lead to better decisions. To have this regular referencing be the case in practice, you need to take deliberate action to keep that person top of mind.
Finally, ensure that everyone across the company understands this person. It does you little good if others on your team don’t share the same vision.
One startup made it a collective habit to ask, “What would Emily do?” Some companies will post their target customer’s profile in the bathrooms (hey — you’re kind of a captive audience!). Successfully spreading this empathy across an organization gets everyone rowing in same direction. This speeds decision-making, and cuts down on meeting time, because everyone intuitively understands who they’re designing for and what that person values.
Have a clear picture of your target customer. It seems so obvious. One of the “of courses”. Don’t let it be a platitude. Having a specific, sticky, and shared image of who you’re designing for is crucial if you want to go from target customer to loyal customer.