Customer pains and strategy

It’s no secret that I think SWOT analysis and most marketing strategy documents (and even business plans) are largely useless. Most of the time these are static Microsoft Word files that someone creates at the beginning of the project and never get looked at again. Often they include information that isn’t analysed and everybody is already aware of. Don’t pay a strategist to tell you what everybody in your company already knows!

Strategy should be an on-going, in progress process that involves everyone in the company, managed by a strategist. The beginning of a project is when we know the least about a business (this is a useful period as it allows you to understand everything a new customer would understand about a business and so the time should be spent exploring and asking questions.) So these documents are usually use nor ornament if somebody if the person who made the doc (or the business) is new.

Let’s look at the threat and weakness analysis. Threats and weaknesses to business are misunderstood by many marketers. Often they cover all the reasons why someone wouldn’t buy your product who wouldn’t be interested in it anyway, such as expense. Only by working with the knowledge we have about our actual customers, can we understand what a threat or weakness may be.

Let’s start by getting crystal clear about what a threat or weakness is:

  • A threat is an environmental reason why someone wouldn’t want to buy your product. E.g, consumers are gaining interest in sustainable products.
  • A weakness is something about your business that may mean someone doesn’t want to buy your product. For example; your packaging is not recyclable.

I don’t feel like these need to be separated into sections and can actually be thrown into one category: all reasons why people wouldn’t want to buy from us. We can then analyse these theories, organise them and then use them to influence our service design.

So we can simplify the marketing strategy process (and make it more logical) by:

  • Creating our customer profiles
  • Detailing customer pains and gains within those customer profiles.
  • Using this information to create problem statements and ‘how might we’ statements.
  • Using those statements to design better services and value propositions.
  • Organising and prioritising these ideas.

Case study: A fitness class who discovered when exploring how the coronavirus pandemic affected their customer, many more threats that would allow them to design better services:

Two of my clients businesses completely crashed due to the coronavirus pandemic when they were no longer allowed to run their fitness events in person. They quickly adapted, setting up high quality online subscription platforms so that their customers could work out from home. What’s more, they started to attract many more customers from around the world, not just the ones in their locality.

The reasons why these new customers wanted to work out from home was not just pandemic specific. They found that many people wanted to work out but couldn’t. They uncovered new threats, and weaknesses which led to new solutions to make their product better.

Threats like:

  • I want to workout, but all the workout clubs around me aren’t very creative or fun.
  • I want to workout, but I worry that my gender/body size/physical ability might be an issue.
  • I want to workout, but I can’t be bothered.
  • I want to workout, but I don’t like going to the gym and getting changed, it’s too much hassle.
  • I want to workout, but I am unable to get to a gym due to my disability.
  • I want to workout, but I can’t take my baby with me.
  • I want to workout, but it might be an issue if I feel like I cant take a rest in the middle of classes.

They used these threats to analyse new customer segments to target. They decided to focus on rural areas, as these are far away from good, creative workout centres.

They worked with strong areas of their business such as being accessible, inclusive and colourful into an even stronger solution. (See, your weakness might not even be a weakness, your weakness might be a strength that isn’t marketed enough!)

In the long run, once they began to understand their threats and business weaknesses, it allowed them to open up their business model to much wider audiences. Creating an almost passive income to run alongside their business during times of feast or famine. Because they explored all the reasons why an ideal customer may not buy, they tapped into new markets which they can continue to sell to once the pandemic is over.

Small, clever service design changes can be made with proper customer pain analysis:

The reason why people stop buying your product isn’t always because it’s too expensive, or it’s not good enough. It can often be something that you may not even have thought about, something that’s going on in their lives that has nothing to do with your business at all. Something that, if you knew about, you would be able to fix with good (and often minor) product design.

  • A bar has seen an increase in people wanting to cut down on their alcohol intake. Perhaps some of their customers don’t want to drink anymore and prefer kombucha. They stock kombucha and pro-biotic sodas for their health freak customers.
  • A cafe has seen that their customers are interested in sustainability and the take out coffee complete with plastic lid is a big no no. So they actively encourage refills and provide compostable cups.
  • A content writer finds that many of their customers are now working from home and have their childcare options restricted. They have found that people are more receptive to sales calls in the evening when they can share the childcare with their partner.
  • A candle fanatic signs up to a candle subscription to get them delivered every month. She is not using the candles enough and they’re starting to stockpile up in her house. Instead of cancelling her subscription, the candle company have made it easy for her to pause it.

If these seem like simple, obvious changes that’s because they are. The problem is finding them and that can only be done with research.
Be aware that customers will not always tell you if their disability, gender role, financial situation or childcare situation is making it difficult for them to buy from you. They may also be reluctant to tell you if they’re leaving you because of a weakness within your business. On the basis that they don’t want to offend (yes, even if you’re a massive company, most people wont be mean to you unless they had very high expectations of you and you failed to deliver).

People aren’t going to announce to you that they can’t engage with your service anymore now they’re a parent, because it’s just too much extra mental load, even if you’d be more than happy to work around them. And they probably aren’t going to tell you about their anxieties about climate change and how they really wish you would do something about it because they probably have ‘caring fatigue’.

And so the customer pains task I set my consulting clients on is this:

Think of all the reasons people might not buy from you. If you’re a café, this may be because of the obvious – a café across the road which is newer and shinier. It could be because your coffee is too expensive for them. Or it could be because your hipster clientele are cutting down on caffeine and would prefer a drink of hot cacao or a matcha latte. It could be because they aren’t sure if they can get a pram in your venue without you getting shirty about them taking up too much room.

Make this list, and then analyse it. Here’s how you can uncover new pains and see whether your pain theories are correct:

  • Examine existing research. A lot of it exists. Is the rise of veganism a potential threat? The increase in working from home? This data can help quantify the Threat. Maybe you have an inkling that people are spending more time outdoors, can you find any research that proves or disproves that theory?
  • Talk to your customers. Remember that they may lie to save your feelings and not disclose personal topics.
  • Observe your customers out in the wild. If you don’t have a physical venue, analyse your Google Analytics and see if any other tools may be useful to you that will allow you to observe how customers behave on your website.
  • Test your own products and ask others to do so. I find teenaged children and parents of the business owner are the best at giving honest critique!
  • Instead of asking what problems are, ask your customers what positive ideas they may have to improve the product.
  • Test and experiment. Have a feeling like your customer will be interested in a slight change of service? Test it and gather honest feedback before you invest in rolling it out accross the board.

Once you have your curated list of reasons why your customers wont buy, highlight the things that you can change about your business. These things will help you design and improve services and products. E.g our customers worry about transactional payments and would prefer a monthly, predictable subscription.
In a different colour, highlight the reasons why people wont buy from you which you can change with marketing solutions. Eg people don’t understand what we do. Or, Not enough people know about us.

Some people just won’t buy from you. There are always going to be people who think artisan sour dough bread is a complete scam. And there will always be people who think white, supermarket bread is literally poison.

Don’t dilute your brand purpose by including people in your final document who aren’t your ideal customer. If your brand message targets everyone you’ll get no one. It’s unlikely that minor changes in the cost of your artisan bread will attract new customers, and making it cheaper may even put some people off.
And so on your brainstorm, cross off the issues that you think would be raised by people who wouldn’t be a good fit for you.

Your analysis shouldn’t be a static one. Why make a SWOT analysis, email it round and not directly use that document of weaknesses to improve products and service your customers in a new and better way?

The SWOT analysis should be the first stage of a design process. Where we’re actively working to make our products better.

So once we’ve uncovered these customer pains, we prioritise them (this is completely subjective and you can internally decide which are the most urgent ones) and create problem statements to help us brainstorm solutions.

I’m a big fan of brainstorming. I think it’s far better to throw out lots of ideas and have them thrown back to you if they aren’t right than it is to be a person who is too afraid to make suggestions in case they aren’t right.

Creating a collaborative environment:
It’s so difficult to collaborate in certain environments where:

  • There are egos and someone is trying to appear better than others by laughing at or discrediting everything else someone says.
  • People with lower ‘status’ within a company feel ashamed to suggest ideas to senior management. Often people with customer facing jobs have little status within the company but actually understand the customer far better than senior management.
  • Ideas aren’t met with an open mind, they’re criticised at too early a stage. There’s no need to pick ideas apart before they’ve got legs. If an idea comes out and does no more than sit there on a post it note there’s no harm in it.

If people are afraid to have ideas, make suggestions and be creative then there will not only be no good design and creativity. There will be no design or creativity full stop. They might not even be afraid to have ideas, they may just feel dispirited that nothing they say ever makes a change and only the opinions of one director get listened to.

Problem statements:
Taking a customer pain, work it into a statement that enables useful brainstorming.
A template might help such as a ‘how might we’ statement.

  • How might we create a more sustainable product?
  • How might we make our business more welcoming and inclusive?
  • How might we promote our lower cost package to new audiences?

You could also use the following statement:
I am a ____ and I want _____ so I can ______but_____

  • I am a freelancer and I’d like to go to my local cafe to work so I can feel a part of a community and get out of the house but there is no wifi and I don’t feel welcome to stay longer than 20 minutes.

Remember to edit your ideas (which are assumptions) and do the work of talking to your customers, analysing research and demographic trends.