Q. What’s the best way to reach new clients if the thing we have that differentiates us from our competition is something our prospective customers don’t know that they need (but is really good for them)?
A. A wise man once observed that in business there are only two things that matter, reality and perception, but reality only matters to the extent that it influences perception. This is true because a person’s perception is his/her reality. If, as you say, your product is good for a particular segment of the market, but they don’t know it, and if that segment is large enough to support your business, you are left with only one challenge. To succeed, you must change the perception of people in your target segment. This can be a monumental task, but the tips below will make the process easier.
• Develop fact based arguments that explains the value of your product or service. Use reality to alter perception. For example, our new cookies taste the same as what you are currently eating, but they have 50 percent fewer calories and contain no fat. Clearly, taste is a matter of personal opinion, but a lower caloric content and no fat are facts that will convince at least some people that your product is a healthy alternative and worth trying. Lay out your argument in terms that are as clear and concise as possible. You are unlikely to be able to hold people’s attention long enough to make a complex argument.
• Use demonstrations to highlight the value of your offering. If you need to displace an established incumbent, side-by-side comparisons can be effective. If the benefits of your product or service can be shown quickly, live or videotaped demonstrations may be appropriate. Alternatively, if a demonstration would take too long, but the benefits are visible (e.g., weight loss) before and after photos may be useful. In other situations, conducting tests and presenting the results can change opinions. This can be particularly powerful if the tests are conducted by an independent third party.
• Focus on converting a group of early adopters. With anything new, there are people who are more likely to be willing to give it a try. You may need to provide significant incentives to induce trial. For example, if your product or service is relatively inexpensive and satisfied customers are likely to purchase in the future, you might consider offering free samples.
• Target influencers. If the right people are seen using your product or service, it can induce others to give it a try. For example, manufacturers of athletic equipment frequently furnish free product to high visibility athletes or teams. Nike will often donate game jerseys to selected football teams as long as the company’s trademark swoosh is visible. The athletes that wear the jerseys are influencers and will cause others to purchase Nike product.
• Seek testimonials from people whose opinion is respected. Authors often print endorsements from acknowledged experts in the field on the back cover of their books. The thought is that these testimonials will drive purchases by people who respect the opinion of the experts.
Changing perceptions can be a huge challenge. However, if you are going to build a successful business selling to people who don’t currently understand the value of your offering; this is exactly what you will have to do. The tips above can make the difficult task more manageable.