The other day, I got a call from a friend who's in the midst of creating a marketing plan for her music business, and she expressed how she is determined to create something that sets her apart from the rest. “I’m trying to create some new programs for the store and I just don’t know what to do or where to begin,” she said.
At the time, she had customer segments and products and services to offer them, but she wanted more. She wanted to be the first person teachers called when an instrument was broken, she wanted parents and students who took lessons to purchase accessories, and ultimately, she wanted her customers to have a love of music and to experience the joy that music brings into their lives.
None of those were coming together, and Sharon was feeling overwhelmed—as any small business owner would be in her situation.
Here's how to face your stressors, and deliver.
1. When overwhelmed, focus instead of panicking
People often don't know they're overwhelmed until it's too late. Here’s a clue: When you find your attention going from one thing to another and you’re not actually accomplishing anything, that is being overwhelmed.
When you’re thinking or brainstorming about a marketing challenge, being overwhelmed looks about the same. You see all kinds of options and opportunities, but it just doesn’t come together. This is the red flag that tells you to stop and focus on one thing.
2. Figure out what's important to your customers
In Sharon’s situation, she had groups of customers—parents, teachers, private lesson students—all of which frequented her shop. She was looking for ways to engage them further and keep them in the store.
Here is the exercise I gave her.
- Select a customer—any customer. The only criteria are that you know them and can identify them as a person. This means that you know their name and have talked to them. You know something about them.
- Sit down quietly and put yourself in their place. Put yourself in a circumstance they face that might trigger a thought or action around your product or service and then think about what action they would take next—what question might they ask themselves? What’s stopping them or holding them back from going to you for a solution?
- Draw the process. Use a large sheet of poster board, a white board or sticky notes and start drawing out this event that your customer is experiencing. Important: do not use words. Instead use icons, stick figures and graphics to represent events or circumstances. Using graphics will activate a completely different part of your brain and you’ll be amazed at what opportunities pop up that you may have missed by simply listing things out.
- Ask yourself: What’s missing at this moment? Don’t stop being your customer. Continue to think about what’s missing that would help you right now.
- Draw in the items that are missing. Stick with the drawing and call out what’s missing, and where or how it could be included.
It may also help to enroll someone in the process who isn’t as knowledgeable about your business, but has experience and can relate to your customer group. For example, I don’t know anything about running a music store, but my son did play the stand-up bass in the orchestra and I could imagine being the parent of a child taking lessons.
3. Brainstorm after the process
After going through this process, we realized that there were two opportunities where Sharon could “insert” herself into her ideal customer’s world.
The first opportunity was to provide video tutorials on how to fix certain things yourself. We had never considered this, because after all, our original focus was to bring them to the store to have them fixed. However, being a resource when a teacher can fix his or her own instrument would not only be helpful to the teacher, but would also allow teachers to refer Sharon's video and store to others.
The next opportunity was to make the store's information available to teachers at arm’s-reach. We considered a laminated sheet that Sharon could deliver to the music programs in each school that serves as a resource with a link to her site and the video tutorials.
We also brainstormed ideas as if we were the parent, and came up with experience progress—getting better at an instrument. There were many other items in our list, but the conversation went to how often the road to becoming an accomplished player seems endless, with no end insight and no measure of progress.
That’s when we started talking about the martial arts and how they had programs with accessories you purchased as well as regular “tests” and progress points as measured by belt color. Then we started playing with the idea of having a system like that for lessons.
What we learned from the process
Getting inside your customers’ world takes concentration and focus. We had to really let go of what we thought was the right thing and focus on what the customer needed. To get there, we focused on the customers’ circumstance at the moment when they could be thinking about us, and from there we brainstormed questions they might ask and how we could be of service in that moment.
Give this process a try and see what new opportunities pop up for you and your business. I would love to hear and see your results.