Can marketing please everyone?

The next step of effective marketing is based on the simple fact that you can’t please everyone, because different people want different things. Indeed, even when some people seem to have the same desire, they often define it in different ways. For instance, to some, adventure means thrill-seeking. To others, it means international travel.

Remember, the product you’re marketing embodies a certain definition of the desire it satisfies, and your target audience consists of the people who share that desire and definition. Everyone else is outside of your product’s scope, at least for now.

Next, you can narrow your target audience further by dividing it into two groups: adopters, who are receptive to change, and adapters, who are resistant to it.

Adopters embrace new things. They love the thrill of discovering something that’s more effective and innovative than what they’ve encountered before. Picture the technology fans who line up at the Apple Store, eager to adopt the new iPhone on its release day.

In contrast, adapters shy away from new things. They relish the sense of security that comes with familiarity. Picture the people who are still using flip phones.

Of course eventually, they’ll probably feel compelled to get a smartphone like everyone else. At that point, they’ll adapt.

The distinction between these two groups is crucial, because the product you’re marketing represents a new thing to everyone who hasn’t bought it yet. It offers them a novel way of fulfilling one of their desires, which they’re already fulfilling in other ways.

You’re much more likely to persuade adopters to try out your product than adapters. If you try to market it to the adapters, you’ll be asking them to do something that goes against their nature: giving up an old, proven way of fulfilling their desire, and replacing it with one that’s new and unproven, at least to them.

So forget about the adapters. Your product isn’t for them – not yet, anyway. Instead, make the adopters your initial target audience.

If there are enough of them, they’ll constitute the smallest viable market – the least number of people who can make your product profitable.

We know that people’s purchasing decisions are motivated by deep-seated needs and desires. But there’s something else that drives the decision to buy: personal values – in other words, the things people care about when pursuing the things they want.

If you want to play it safe as a marketer, you can try to stake out either the middle ground between these values or one of the more popular extremes, like affordability. After all, those are the places where most people can be found.

But these safe spots are where most companies are trying to market their products. As a result, the competition is fierce. If your company is a start-up, it can be difficult to get your message heard above the din.

To find your smallest viable market, the more effective approach is to move out to the extremes that haven’t been overcrowded yet. Even better, stake out a unique combination of extremes. You can even link opposite extremes together!

In order to find a core group of fans who will become the smallest viable market for your product, you first need to realize a seemingly paradoxical truth: those fans already exist. They might not realize it yet, but there are already people who have the desires, needs and values that might inspire them to become your fans. They’re just waiting for you to connect them into a new tribe and lead them to your product.

A tribe is a group of people who affiliate with each other and share a similar worldview – the set of assumptions through which they view the world around them. This worldview informs how they pursue their needs, desires and values.

Therefore, the next step of effective marketing involves creating, connecting and leading tribes by telling stories that resonate with their members’ worldviews.

A successful story makes a promise in a language the audience will understand. Essentially, they say, “If you buy this product, use this service or visit this store, you’ll receive fulfillment of one of your desires in a way that you value.” That’s the promise. And then comes the language: the symbols that make the promise feel believable by appealing to the assumptions underlying the audience’s worldview.

Consider the discount American department store chain JCPenney. Originally, the stores were geared toward a particular tribe of shoppers: those whose desire for play and hunger for affordability made them love the game of bargain-hunting. JCPenney’s promise to them was that its store was a rewarding place to search for deals.

And the language the company used to make this promise feel believable was a never-ending stream of coupons, discounts and clearance sales – all of which provided symbols that JCPenney fans automatically associated with bargains.

By leading their fans to engage with their store through things like coupons, JCPenney was also sending a second, implicit message: this is how people like us do things. For bargain hunters, “people like us” are those who clip coupons, scan the newspaper for sales and, well, shop at JCPenney.

Marketers ignore their fans’ shared worldview and the symbols that speak to it at their peril. When Ron Johnson became the CEO of JCPenney in 2011, he thought the coupons and other bargain-related symbols were a bit tacky; they weren’t how a high-end store would present itself. So he got rid of them.

The result? The bargain hunters fled, and sales dropped by more than 50 percent.

So think carefully before you do a marketing shift.

Check out my related post: What is Supreme?

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