Who's It For?
One of my favorite books is Anne of Green Gables. I’ve read it at least a dozen times, and writing this makes me think I should head back to Avonlea soon. I bought it for a young girl I knew, and I’m not sure she ever made her way through it.
My oldest loves Harry Potter, but his brother isn’t nearly as interested. But the same middle son loved Magic Tree House and got all the way into the 50’s in that series before he outgrew it. With my daughter, our house had a bit of mourning when Mo Willems published the Thank You Book because Elephant and Piggie were being retired, but I know other kids who have no idea who they are and how funny they can be.
We don’t all respond to the same stories in the same way. And that’s ok. While the earlier examples are some of the more well-known stories, I also have plenty of stories that I love, but are far less popular . This is the same for the stories that brands tell. The story— both the product itself and the messaging around it— is for their primary target, not for “everyone.” Even the seemingly “used by everyone” products such toilet paper talk about different aspects of their product, whether that’s price, environmentally-friendly, or how many plys it is. That’s because different people care about different things. Different stories resonate.
If you think of some of the most admired brands, nearly all of them tell great stories, but they still focus on telling a story to a particular audience. While I’m sure that there were plenty of internal discussions about the Colin Kapernick-led Nike ad, ultimately the reason why it worked for their brand is because it was part of the story that Nike has been telling for years. It made some people mad, but not the people who bought into the story of Nike originally.
This can extend to any business or brand, not just mass market ones. My son’s local hockey team tells their story as a “true rec team,” with the idea that kids who love to play deserve ice time, and that they’ll learn the sport better if they’re enjoying themselves. The other local hockey team tells its story as getting premier coaching to successfully build skills. Both are good stories, but they appeal to different kids and parents. Knowing and sharing their story to the right audience is what helps them build their teams—and it helps parents more successfully decide which team is right for them.
So one major piece of the marketing puzzle is to know what the core of your story is—what’s your value proposition? What do you or your product or service offer the world? Then the other major piece is to figure out who would want this product or service. Side Note: this can also be done as figuring out who your primary target is and what their needs are, and then build your product or service around that. Getting to product-market fit isn’t a linear process, so while I refer to it here as first this, then this, the point is that you really need both—a great story and a solid understanding of what your audience wants.
How well do you know your target and what they want? What makes them excited? What makes them angry? What makes them want to buy you over someone else? What makes them want to buy your category at all? It’s really hard to tell a story that they’ll care about if you don’t know the answers to questions like these.
It’s important to push yourself beyond the obvious, basic answers of things like, “better price.” Unless you’re private label, where that’s actually the answer, there’s almost always something else at work. Proximity to purchase, great customer service, other people thinking it’s super slick? Doing the hard work here of understanding what is compelling will pay off in your ability to tell a story to them that’s compelling.
As marketers, we are not always the doers. I remember trying to explain my job at one point. I didn’t make the product. I didn’t sell the product. I didn’t review the quality of the product. My job was to get the right message to the right people at the right time to get them to want to buy the product. Knowing who your story is for and then telling it to them is marketing’s job.
We all want to be the monster hit, the next big thing, the next Facebook-Uber-Slack-Unicorn. But even the most famous authors or brands don’t start with a goal to serve everyone. They start to serve their readership or their target, and they build from there. JK Rowling doesn’t care what the Percy Jackson readers think of Harry Potter, unless they happen to also be Potter-philes. She knows who it’s for.
So today, look at your marketing and your product and ask yourself, “Who’s it For?” Spend the time and effort to figure that out, and then tell them a great story with your product and messaging.
If you need to better understand your target or better develop your positioning, contact us.
 For the interested, here are a few of my lesser-known favorites: Kiss My Tiara, Susan Jane Gilman and The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.