Build it for the right people

I love this time of year! The days are getting longer and longer, the air is warmer and everything is stirring. You can almost smell the change in the air. I have a window near my desk from where I can see my garden, and it’s like every time I look up there is a new flower, some extra leaves, and more birds chirping.

I don’t know about you, but when spring finally arrives I feel like anything is possible.

But there is another reason why I love spring so much: I know that in just a few weeks I can start taking my shoes off. You see, I love barefoot running. In fact, I love pretty much barefoot anything. I live near the mountains and I do a lot of hiking and scrambling in the woods, most of it with no shoes.

Years ago Vibram, the Italian manufacturer of rubber soles (most good hiking shoes have a Vibram sole), came out with a pair of shoes made precisely for people like me. They are called Fivefingers, and they look a bit like a glove for your feet. I loved the fact that I could go literally anywhere, including city pavements, without worrying about hurting my feet or even getting them dirty.

When I first found out about Vibram Fivefingers, I bought two pairs and then I told everyone about it, and tried to convince them to buy them too (partly because I loved the product and partly because I didn’t want to be the only one with the funny shoes). And a few of my friends did buy them, and loved them, while a few other made fun of them instead, because they looked too weird (“like a fucking monkey”, to quote one of the comments).

But here’s the thing: that the people who hate them, find them ridiculous and think they make your feet look like monkey feet are as much of an asset for Vibram as the people who are enthusiastic about it like me: they make people like me feel like they are part of a little group of individuals who “know better”. Whenever I see another person wearing Fivefingers it’s quite natural for us to exchange nods, and sometimes even stop and talk. I don’t think that would ever happen with any other pair of shoes. The quality of the shoes (good) or the fact they they make your feet sweat (bad) are not as important as the fact that there is nothing like them, and that they make the people who wear them feel a little different (special from their own point of view, a bit weird from everyone else’s).

But one thing is certain: they seem to have been built especially for me.

The same thing happened to people who used to drive VW Beetles or Combi Vans, or people who used an Apple computer when it wasn’t so widespread.

I lived in a VW Combi Van for year (another life, another story) and whenever I crossed another Combi van it was quite rude not to wind down your window, stick your hand out and throw a hang-loose. We were part of the same tribe!

And years later, back in the civilised worlds, the fact that I was a (relatively early) Mac user always solicited a few questions and doubts, but at the same time made a clear statement that I was a “creative”.

Now, let’s take these 3 examples: Vibram Fivefingers, VW Beetle, Apple computers (until the iPhone).

What is the the thing that made these products successful in their own ways?

They built it for the right people.

If Apple had started catering for finance and numbers people in the early days (which it was under some pressure to do) it would have never created the loyal fans it did.

If VW had started worrying about company executives who wanted big, showy cars, the Beetle and the Combi van would have never become the icons they are.

And if Vibram had not had the courage to create, and produce a pair of shoes that most people find weird and ridiculous, today it would only be known for putting good rubber soles on third party’s hiking shoes… hardly the stuff of brands.

So here’s my challenge to you:

Find YOUR people. And then only talk to them.

In order to do that you have to be very clear about the kind of people who aren NOT –and never will be– your people. I always include in my workshops an exercise called “Enemy clients”. It’s a great way to start figuring out who you are not trying to be liked by. You can download a worksheet with this exercise at the bottom of this post).

At this point you’re ready to really think about who your people are. Listen to them, learn the kind of language they use when they talk about topics relevant to your brand. What really moves them?

There are people out there right now who would buy your product without batting an eyelid, even if it cost a lot more. And they would be very happy about their purchase. And they would tell others about it.

As an entrepreneur and marketer (if you run ANY type of small business or non-profit, you are both. Can’t be one without the other, sorry) it is your duty to find these people.

The market is big enough for everyone. We just have to find our people.