Your Guide to Customer Research

It’s impossible to make something that a large number of people want a lot.  You’ve got to know who those frst users are and how you’re gonna get them.  And then you just sit down and have a party with those first users, focus entirely on them, until you make them super, super happy.

Entrepreneurs work really hard to build their businesses, from developing the idea, to making the thing, finalizing it, up-loading it and clicking “Publish.”  And then you copy and paste the link into your Twitter app… and click “Tweet.” You come back to your dashboard… you wait… you look back to the twitter stream… “did it go out?”… pull up your account at Twitter.com just to be sure… “yea, it published”… back to the dashboard…refresh… no sales yet… make a cup of cofee… “I just need to get my head out of this for a bit”… come back in 3 minutes… nothing… come back the next day… nothing… come back the next week…No sales. No retweets. Nothing… just crickets.

As painful as it is, you just learned something essential: nobody cares about you or your product. You’re not entitled to any sales or clicks or shares or love simply because you made a thing. Nobody cares about your thing.

What do they care about?

They care about themselves, their needs, their wants, their loves. Defning your audience is the process of discovering who could care about the thing you’re making, before you waste a bunch of time making it. It’s a simple set of tools and tactics to determine if your idea is any good, and which specifc parts of the idea you should make frst… because you really don’t want have to have that crickets moment.

It’s been the toolset of advertising and marketing experts for years, the secret-sauce energizing all of the campaigns you’ve ever seen (certainly all of them you still remember). And now we can use these tools ourselves before we risk too much…for crickets.

Here I will guide you through some of the basic concepts in audience defnition.  This is a better way to build a sustainable, independent business than making a bunch of assumptions and hoping for the best. Defining your audience is a critical milepost on the way and this is a quick guide to get you there.

 

The Principles

1.  Find the Overlap

Happiness, in my business, occurs in the overlap between what I want to build and what they want to buy.  Find the overlap — between what you want to make and what they want to buy.

You are not a niche,  but in order to communicate and resonate with your audience
you will have to focus so they can understand you.  When we listen to stories we track and digest small packets of information. The same is true with how you communicate who you are and how you help people.  For example if I say, “I am a writer,” you can understand that and share it with others. But if I say, “I am a writer who does architecture but I swim in the mornings and I like urban designs and sometimes
I do yoga” –and I’ve lost you.

It’s in our best interests to be clear with our messaging/positioning because it’s more shareable/understandable and we’ll impact more people that way.  It’s painful… picking something to focus on is really hard. “I’m so much more than a writer,” but she didn’t have traction until she focused on one topic (writing) and made something for that specific need.

2.  Use A Specific Person You Know

We have very social brains that understand people at an incredible level. So I go small first and think about individual people. Who is one person I know who has this problem?  Get to a specifc, real life person you know —what if you made your thing just for that one person?

3.  Look for the Truth

Look for the truth that they often don’t know or can’t say about themselves.  The greatest thing we can offer is to be great listeners and to have empathy for your culture to understand what is the truth.  Look for the truth about them — be a great listener and have empathy.

Getting to the truth about them is the real work. It can be difcult because it’s likely something they are not explicitly saying to you… it’s under the surface just a little.

4.  Ask The Fail-Safe Questions

Ask the 2 fail-safe questions — can this audience pay? Will they?

  1. Can they pay? Do they literally have money to buy things with? Do they have disposable income? E.g., college students may not have disposable income for deeper education, but their parents might.
  2. Will they pay?  Is this the kind of thing they’d buy? Does it ft with their values? E.g., my uncle—even afer months of a sore back—would never try acupuncture. He’d rather drive his tractor in pain than be a hippy.

The Questions

Ready to get started? Here are a questions to ask about your audience/customers.  First is a section of questions designed to help you develop a personal understanding of your customer so that you can have empathy for their situation and their needs.  The second section is a list of powerful questions compiled to help you think deeper about your ideal customer.  Pour a cofee and waste some time on this… you may be surprised with what insights come.  

This process, for me, typically leads to some kind of insight, a surprising hunch or fact about the audience.  As you go through these exercises, look for the insights, the surprising bits that help you really get your teeth into who they are, what they care about and how to communicate freshly with them.

Developing Empathy

This is a simple exercise.   Think of a specifc person you know or can fnd online. Write their name down. Picture them in your mind.  Ask this person a specifc question like, “what do you like about x,” or “what are you missing?” Let that question be your entry point into their experience.

Start brainstorming about the questions. What do they see/hear/think/feel/do/say about that question (and any others that come up)? No
bad ideas. Get it all out. Can you get into their skin and see what’s inside?

It workds out well to do this with a few friends if you can. See how others think diferently about this person.  Once you’re done you’ll have some hypotheses about this person. What could you do to test those hypotheses?

  1.  What does he/she see?
  2. What’s in the environment?
  3. What do his/her friends look like?
  4. What does the market offer?
  5. What does he/she hear? From friends? From boss? From influencers?
  6. What does he/she think and feel?
  7. What really counts?
  8. What are the major preoccupations?
  9. Worries and aspirations?
  10. What does he/she say and do?
  11. Attitude in public?
  12. Appearance?
  13. Behaviour towards others?

 

Exploratory Questions

The next questions are designed to help you get out of your own assumptions and into some insight about your audience.

Here are some tips on how to use these questions:

  • Think of a specifc person you know or can fnd online. Write their name.
    Maybe answer these questions for a few diferent people.
  • Try hand writing your answers on a large pad of paper or a whiteboard. See
    how moving your arms and hands while writing afects how you think.
  • We’re brainstorming here; no wrong answers, no bad ideas. Get it all out. Edit and cross of things you don’t like later.
  • You’re a big boy/girl—you can determine when you’re stalling and when you’re faking.
  • Do it with a few friends. See how others think diferently about this person.
  • Once you’re done you’ll have some hypotheses about this person. What could you do to test those hypotheses?

Asking Exploratory Questions

  1. Name? age? gender? married? kids?
  2. What kind of job does she have?
  3. How much does she earn?
  4. What is going on in her liferight now?
  5. what does she do in her free time?
  6. Where was the last time/place she vacationed?
  7. Where is her fantasy vacation?
  8. What kind of car does she drive?
  9. How else does she travel?
  10. What kinds of things does she read?
  11. What magazines? What blogs?
  12. What websites does she frequent? Which is her favorite?
  13. What are a few of the purchases she made in iTunes this year? Amazon?
  14. What movies did she see recently?
  15. What TV shows?
  16. What are her favorites?
  17. What’s her favorite youtube video?
  18. What conferences or events does she go to?
  19. What are her guilty pleasures?
  20. What gurus, teachers or experts does she already follow?
  21. What (and who) does she most admire?
  22. Who does she idolize?
  23. What does she wish for before blowing out the candles or while seeing a shooting star or when praying?
  24. How does she see herself?
  25. What’s the biggest threat to that self-identity?
  26. What frustrates her?
  27. What conventional wisdom does she subscribe to?
  28. Where is the system or conventional wisdom letting her down and leading her astray?
  29. What keeps her up at night?
  30. What does she secretly wish was true about her or her situation?
  31. What does she secretly fear may be true about her or her situation?
  32. What’s her worst case scenario?
  33. What’s a worst case scenario that’s even WORSE than that?
  34. What do others in her life (parents, siblings, friends, coworkers) think about her situa- tion?
  35. Where will she lose control/freedom/power/ influence if things get worse or don’t change?
  36. What is she betting on being true about her situation?
  37. If her life could go perfectly from here on, how would that story go?

 

Asking Business Questions

  1. How will she know when it’s time to look for a site/product like yours?
  2. What does she google to find you? (List as much as you can be related to your business and her other interests.)
  3. How will she feel after her first experience visiting your site?
  4. How will she feel after visiting your site consistently for three months?
  5. What primary emotion does she feel at the exact moment she’s about to buy your product or service?
  6. What’s the “dream solution” (OMG, I can’t believe that exists!) that she’d pay almost anything for?
  7. Where in her life will she be more powerful and influential because of your solution?
  8. How else will her life be different after engaging with you?

Keep Up the Good Work

This stuf takes time. It also takes work. Listen to your audience, go through the exercises and just try some stuff out.  You will learn the most buy doing your thing and then actually listening to your customers.

Whenever I notice something new about my actual customers I add it to my customer profile, so that I can be sure to speak to that trait with my products and services.

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