For many new businesses, the biggest challenge is standing out in a sea of competitors that all do the same thing. Restaurants, retail shops, service providers and other similar types of businesses need to distinguish themselves and show customers what makes them different.
But some companies, especially those in the tech space, have the opposite challenge: What they do is so inherently different that consumers are completely unfamiliar with it. Therefore, to succeed in the market, these startups need to convince potential customers to try a new product or method of doing something.
This is rarely a simple obstacle to overcome. After all, not every consumer in your target market is an "early adopter," and many may even be skeptical or hesitant about making a switch.
"Let's be real — nobody is looking to change their behavior," said Adam Padilla, president and chief creative officer of Brandfire creative agency. "Humans are a race of habit formers, and we are notoriously slow to adopt new ones. Many new businesses set out to create a new habit, where the smarter move would be to leverage an existing habit and have consumers try your product instead of one that they already use."
If you want to encourage consumers to try — and eventually come back to — your new product, here are a few tips from business leaders who know how it's done. [4 Ways to Build (and Improve) Customer Relationships]
Know how to educate consumers
With any new product, marketers usually first think about how to explain to consumers why they should use it. This can be doubly challenging for businesses trying to encourage a new behavior or purchasing pattern.
"If you have a product or solution that solves an issue that people don't know they have, then not only do you have to get your product in front of people, but you also have to educate them about the problem they have, so you can solve it," said David Glickman, founder and CEO of Ultra Mobile, a provider of mobile phone plans. "What's much easier is to find a common friction point that customers are actively seeking to solve, solve it for them, and in doing so introduce them to the added value that you offer."
Padilla agreed, and said that when you introduce a new product, you must examine the primary use case for it, and which brands own that space in consumers' minds. For example, if you're introducing a new hot beverage that's meant to take the place of coffee or tea, you'll be unsuccessful if you advertise as a selling point that the beverage is "nothing like coffee or tea", Padilla said.
Your customer base likely has no need for a new, unfamiliar hot beverage, and your drink has no place in their psyches. However, they might be willing to give it a shot if you said that your drink replaces their morning coffee with more alertness, no caffeine jitters and added fat-burning protein, he said.
"Finding your lane is all about finding the most relevant accepted truth and habit to your product, and then capitalizing on the existing knowledge in the consumer pool to differentiate your superior product," Padilla told Business News Daily. "This is what will ultimately shift their purchasing pattern from their current default choice to your newer, better offering."
"[Focus] on the known problem your product or service solves, rather than the really cool features that people will end up loving but don't even know they want yet," Glickman added. "Once you find common ground, influence the decision points in the path-to-purchase to convert the sale, and then over-deliver when you do get your customers to give you a try, so that they become your brand ambassadors."
Start small and prove your worth
Big changes often happen in small increments over time, and encouraging a new consumer behavior is no different. Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing campaigns and trying to secure huge, long-term business deals right off the bat, it might benefit you to start small and expand from there.
Michael Sachse, senior vice president of marketing, business development and regulatory affairs at Opower, said that his utility-industry software company won some of its biggest customers by signing them on for small-scale pilot programs, which then grew into valuable multiyear contracts.
"We've spent a lot of time and resources creating a platform that helps [utility companies] present their customers with an expertly designed user experience that delivers actionable insights in the most engaging way possible," Sachse said. "Once [we could] show utility companies that we can create a customer experience that can deliver tangible benefits, like energy efficiency at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions, the market creates itself."
Revisit your business model if necessary
Your first attempt to bring a new product and associated behavior to the market isn't always going to be successful, and if it's not, you need to be ready to rework your approach. Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at visual discovery app Blippar, said that his company started with a hypothesis about consumers' current search behaviors and evolved their offerings to adapt to what users wanted.
"As we experimented with variations [of Blippar], we looked at how people behaved on the platform," Hiwaizi said. "We launched in a way that the only thing you could interact with was brand touchpoints. Consumers usually tried to 'blipp' (search for) six or seven other objects in the room. This told us that people are curious about everyday objects, [not just brands]."
Hiwaizi also reminded entrepreneurs that it's not technology that's disruptive, but the businesses that find new ways to use that technology.
"When you're iterating [a tech product] and looking for a behavior change, you also need to iterate your business model," Hiwaizi said. "There are lots of technologies out there that weren't disruptive until someone worked out a business model [to] monetize it. Remember, the tech that powers Uber was all available before Uber came along."
Find the balance between old and new
No matter how "new" or "revolutionary" you think your product is, it's almost guaranteed to serve a function that already existed long before you came up with your idea. You probably won't make a full change in the status quo, so Padilla said the best approach is joining the status quo in a superior way.
"Never let hubris convince you that you have invented a new need that humankind hasn't discovered until you came along," Padilla said. "The innovation is not in creating a new need, it is in serving our evolutionary needs in a more efficient, pleasant or surprising way — just not too surprising. Remember, we like our newness with just a hint of the familiar. It's all about finding that balance."