Why narrowing our focus can broaden our appeal

Trying to make a product that pleases everyone, we please no one. Finding our customers' Jobs To Be Done guides us to make better yet less instinctive choices.

Why narrowing our focus can broaden our appeal

Do you remember how you felt the last time you walked into an art gallery? What made you want to go there? What was this gallery like? Did you buy anything?

For me, that was a few months ago. I was walking down the street when a large photo caught my eye. It was a flower taken up close on a black background. Instantly I remembered when we were on vacation years ago with my dad. While visiting a castle, we stumbled upon a temporary exhibition showcasing the works of an artist specializing in scans of flowers and plants. Just like in this gallery, there were brightly colored flowers against a black background. A beautiful scene.

However, I did not go in. The gallery was empty. I said to myself: ‘Can I come in? Once inside, what will the gallery owner think? And what will happen if I don't want to buy anything in the end? What inconvenience will this cause?’

Nothing was displayed near the photos, and it was impossible to know the price without having to ask. If the price is too high for me, how will the gallery owner react? All these emotions are important because they determine whether customers enter the gallery or not.

I remembered a small gallery a friend had taken me to: the Slow Galerie. This one, on the other hand, was full of artworks: they were everywhere on the walls, and on the floor, you could browse among dozens of them in crates akin to a record store. People were walking in and out. They came to watch, rummage, and then left freely. Prices were displayed on each artwork. Here, I felt at home, and I came in without fear (and I have returned several times since). However, a person looking for rare and ancient artwork would not have entered it!

What is so special about these two galleries? They have perfectly adapted to the customers they have decided to attract and serve. They made polarizing but necessary choices that allowed their target to feel “at home” and think “this was made for me”, “this is exactly what I was looking for” or even “they thought of me”. The Slow Galerie has created an environment where ordinary people can feel at home while enjoying art. By displaying the prices on artworks and by the quantity of work that everyone can sift through, the gallery made a strong choice to address art lovers knowing that it would never touch the experts looking for rare works of art.

You can't make a product that pleases everyone. If we try to please everyone, we'll really end up pleasing no one.

When we make a product, we seek to solve a user problem. It must first be understood that any product is “hired” by a user to perform a “job”. This is Clayton Christensen's Theory of Jobs To Be Done. A user problem is a gap that we seek to fill in order to facilitate/improve the “job” of our users. For example, we "hire" a coffee maker in the morning to make our coffee, the "job". Solving the problem could be an upgrade to the current coffee maker, or even going to the local coffee shop that makes better coffee.

A type of product, for example the art gallery, will be able to be “hired” by customers who will have very different “jobs”: "finding a rare artwork" vs "rummage and discover beautiful things" and therefore very different preferences. Hence the complexity of making a product to satisfy everyone.

The challenge then lies in identifying these different customer segments (one job = one segment) and making the polarizing choices that will allow us to very precisely target one customer segment at a time. But here it is, making these choices is difficult:

  • Making a choice means letting go of something, and it's hard to let go of an idea that we've had. A cognitive bias has been theorized on this subject, called the endowment effect. This bias involves attaching a disproportionately high value to what we have created
  • Making a choice is scary: how to know which job is the right one? Is the problem affecting a large enough number of people? When creating a product, we are constantly overtaken by the fear that the product will not work. We then convince ourselves that if it answers to a maximum number of different jobs, and therefore a maximum number of different people, it is more likely to succeed. This is a fallacy.

In some cases, the same product can be used for several “jobs” at the same time, and in other cases, such as the galleries described above, some “jobs” will be incompatible. The elite art gallery cannot display its prices at the risk of losing the exclusive side and uniqueness of its artworks, therefore putting off its public looking for rare artworks.

If we take 3 years to develop a product that addresses several jobs simultaneously, we risk not coming out with anything good enough to please anyone before the end of this period. In the end, the product might not appeal to anyone, or only to certain individuals, and only after 3 years of development.

If, on the other hand, we think job by job, segment by segment, then we will be able to release intermediate versions of our product that will be more likely to appeal to the chosen segment. By designing and developing a product on a job-by-job basis, we are able to generate traction earlier.

This allows us, once a first job has been completed, to iterate and respond to other jobs, other segments. The challenge then becomes to understand, as in the case of our two galleries, which are the incompatible jobs that I will not be able to address with the same product.

What about you, who are you making your product for? Which job do you really want to improve or facilitate? What bold, difficult, and polarizing choices did you or will you have to make to get there?

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