I Put My Product In Front of the Wrong Crowd
And they liked it.
When I created my caffeinated hot chocolate company, I did so with a particular customer in mind. They looked and acted an awful lot like myself. They were young, aged 18–34 (okay, 18–35, you got me). They dressed well if not a bit pretentiously, and spoke clearly and eloquently and read a lot. They also played sports and drank energy drinks.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s part hipster, part jock.
I know. I know.
I’m not saying I was or am all or any of those things, but I did drink energy drinks so there’s that. I’ve also consumed zero cups of coffee in my life. The smell makes me sick; I can only imagine how the taste would make me feel. And yes, I realize that puts me in the major minority of non-coffee drinkers in this over-caffeinated world where $5 coffees are the norm and $2 coffees do pretty well, too.
But I digress.
So here’s where the story gets interesting (that’s right, even more interesting than the previous paragraphs!). I was asked by a family member to hock my wares at a hunting and fishing expo in a small, rural town. He’d be selling his line of hunting themed clothing — which did very well , by the way— and he thought caffeinated hot chocolate might appeal to this crowd.
I disagreed but obliged anyway. For me it was a chance to, 1) spend some time with my younger cousin who I don’t see very often, 2) impart some wisdom accrued over the years to someone who was just getting started in business, and 3) stage a very soft open launch for a product I figured would bomb, but would still allow me to say I did it and I tried.
And it went okay!
Not great, but not horrible, either. We shared a table, me and my cousin the hunter, and I didn’t sell the tiniest fraction of what he sold in terms of dollars, or quantity, but I did learn some things.
First and foremost: I did not know who my customer was.
Okay, that’s really the only thing I learned. Not really, but it’s the theme of this article so I’ll leave it at that for this purpose.
Using my customer description above, I expected to see roughly zero suitable buyers at this two-and-a-half day expo. And I was right.
Based on my preconceived description from above.
It wasn’t even the hunters per se who were taste-testing and buying my product. It was their wives. Their slightly-older-than-middle-aged wives.
It’s not that I didn’t think women would enjoy my product. Quite the opposite, I counted on it. But I never in a million years expected my customer to look more like my mother than myself. Grandmothers drinking caffeinated hot chocolate intended for 20- and 30-somethings? Never!
All this time I thought I was selling to Millennials, maybe Gen-Xers, but the reality is there is this whole new (well, old, compared to some) world of Baby Boomers excited to try this new coffee alternative. And I couldn’t be happier.
It’s a cool feeling to create a niche product enjoyed by a small sampling of the population who really enjoys it and buys repeatedly. But it’s an even cooler feeling to know your product will be enjoyed by the masses. And I don’t mean a cool financial feeling.
Okay, that’s part of the feeling, but only part of it.