While sailing through the Pacific ocean on a dark, cloudy night, your boat is caught in a sudden squall. As the ship slides up and down enormous waves you are tossed overboard, but you find a piece of driftwood to cling to. Once the storm passes you float aimlessly, caught between sleep and fear. When morning breaks you awake to find yourself lying on the shore of a small, uncharted island.
Suddenly you hear footsteps coming through the trees. Turning, you see a large band of people approaching.
“Hello! Welcome to Unnamed Island,” says a woman standing at the front of the crowd.
Spitting sand from your mouth you stammer, “Thank goodness I’m alive! I have been adrift all night; my boat was lost at sea. I am terribly thirsty. Do you have some water? May I have something to eat?”
“Of course,” replies the woman. “But in our culture we believe only in trade. No one receives anything without offering something of value in return.”
“I am only too happy to pay you.” Rummaging through your wallet, you pull out a twenty dollar bill. “I have some cash ... will $20 be enough?”
“I am so sorry,” she replies, a look of disappointment crossing her face. “We do not accept American currency.”
“Oh. Okay. I have credit cards — they are good at millions of locations all over the world.”
“Wonderful!” Says the leader.
You return to your wallet and pull out a MasterCard.
Once again, her look of disappointment returns. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “We only take American Express.”
Different people have similar value for similar things for entirely different reasons. Value changes from perspective to perspective.
In order to make a trade, two people must agree that two different things possess roughly equal measures of value. The invention of money has made this process much easier for customers, but entrepreneurs still have to decide what they will offer in return. The need to create agreement about what constitutes value remains the most critical task for blank page entrepreneurs.
The first step in creating agreement is to discover the psychological aspects of your customers that allow them to find value in your products and services. It’s not your products and services that have value, it’s how they are perceived, and people who value the same things do so for different reasons. Successful entrepreneurs know how to tap into these psychological dynamics.
Creating Different Perceptions of Value for the Same Products: Carla’s Cleaning Services
Carla opened a business to provide residential cleaning services. After many conversations with existing and potential clients, she realized that she could segment her customers into three groups based on their primary emotional needs.
- Some people want cleaning services because they simply don’t have time to do much cleaning on their own — they want somebody else to take care of that task. The feeling they need is freedom. They want to hear, “I’m going to save you time. I’m lightening your load so you have the freedom to focus on more important things.”
- Some people need cleaning services for very expensive or very fragile things. They have a lot of emotion invested in their homes and they want things cleaned in very particular ways. They want to feel trust. They want to hear, “Trust me with this. I promise to be very careful and give it my undivided attention. You don’t need to worry.”
- Some people need cleaning services because they are simply unable to do that task for themselves. Sometimes they suffer from chronic disorganization or feel unable to keep things clean by themselves. The emotion they want to feel is relief. They want to hear, “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it. You no longer need to feel stress about this aspect of your life.”
The services are basically the same, but the customers couldn’t be more different. Demographics — income level, age, race, religion, gender — had nothing to do with what a particular customer needed to feel, and marketing based on those factors couldn’t ensure that Carla’s marketing efforts would present the right emotional appeal to the right customer. Carla realized that, due to these three very different emotional needs, she would have to approach potential customers in three different ways using three different perceptions.
- For those with too little time, she created an advertising campaign featuring a harried-looking woman with a briefcase in one hand and a mop in the other. Above her head were the words “Drop the Mop!” in large, red letters. Underneath it read, “Is cleaning floors the best way for you to spend your time? A ten minute call can save you ten hours a week!” She began featuring this campaign at trade shows and networking events focused on female executives.
- A second promotion focused on those who need careful cleaning. It featured a Downton Abbey-style maid carefully dusting an ornate chandelier. Underneath it read “Caring for history is as important as preserving it.” She began promoting this campaign at auctions and trade shows for those who love antiques and high-end furnishings.
- For those who feel overwhelmed, a third campaign featured an image of a very confused looking man surrounded by brushes, mops, brooms and hundreds of different bottles of cleaning products. The caption beneath read, “Confused? With all the options to choose from, it can be hard to know the right way to clean your home? Let us help.” To promote this campaign, Carla began working with local professional organizers — people whose clients have a hard time integrating cleanliness into their daily routines.
Each of these sets of customers valued different things. Carla was able to provide what they wanted only by recognizing the core psychological needs that create value in their minds, then altering her communications to meet those needs.