You must give to receive. It’s the ancient law of karma and the most important lesson of every Christmas movie. And—as I’ve discovered working with my branding and design consultancy’s startup clients—a key factor in launching a successful business. The brand that puts its users first, whose sole purpose is to serve them, will surely win. But it’s one thing to know this, another to put it in action. So this holiday season, I give to you three simple ways to grow your business by practicing generosity.
1. GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED
When we start working with a new company, in the very first meeting I ask the founders what problem their product is solving. Of course everyone has an answer to this question; any solid entrepreneur knows that a real-world problem is a key building block in any pitch, not to mention the justification for why we go to work every day (and night, and weekend).
But often the problem we think we’re solving is actually self-serving. As in, "The problem I’m solving is that my product doesn’t exist," versus considering what our target user is truly feeling/missing/wanting/needing. The temptation is to imagine that our audience is sitting around wishing there were a product exactly like the one we’re launching. When I worked in advertising, we used to joke about creative briefs that contained a consumer insight along the lines of "I wish there were a cereal that contained crunchy bran flakes and plump raisins, that was healthy and also delicious."
Or let’s take another example we’re all familiar with, such as Foursquare. Before Foursquare, consumers were not bemoaning to themselves, "I wish I could use my phone to publicly mark all the places that I go," or "Help! I am missing out on location-based deals that reward me for my loyalty!" Consumers were not wishing for Foursquare, because it didn’t exist yet. The real problem that Foursquare so successfully addressed? So much of who we are is defined by where we go, but our movement through the world gets lost or forgotten. And as it turns out, we sure love to track it.
Interesting brands, successful brands, are solving a real problem, not a problem that they’ve invented to justify the product’s existence. Give consumers something that they really need, and they’ll be yours forever.
2. DO THE WORK FOR THEM
People are lazy. I include myself in this blanket statement. Nothing gets me more frustrated than arriving to a new site or downloading an app and not knowing what’s expected of me. Actually, I don’t spend much time being frustrated, because I just leave. And the same holds true for picking up a piece of packaging, or walking into a retail environment. People want to be communicated with simply, or not at all.
Especially in the world of technology, when someone arrives to your product, do them a favor and immediately answer two questions: "What is this?" and "What should I do next?" If you can’t answer the first question through design (ideal), put a big sentence at the top of the page that says, "THIS WEBSITE IS FOR..." But don’t make that sentence too long, because as we’ve established, people are lazy and that includes not wanting to read too much. Your navigation should be clear. Your main call to action should be prominent (and ideally singular). I am oversimplifying, but isn’t it refreshing? I care about you and I don’t want you to work too hard.
Make the first two steps easy (what is this? what do I do next?) and save the rest for when they care about you in return. Which shouldn’t be too hard to achieve if you start by doing the work for them.
We often get hired to conduct consumer research for larger brands, but research can be harder to implement in the world of startups, when both time and budget are already stretched. However, there’s nothing like hearing from the people whom you’re trying to reach, and there are scrappy ways to do it.
In the early stages, this could mean pulling together a few focus groups with people who match your target audience (or at least come close) to learn a bit more about what they care about. Of course you shouldn’t make major business decisions this way. But you might discover that what you thought was your product’s primary benefit is actually not as relevant as a different point you could emphasize. Or maybe there’s a must-have feature that hadn’t occurred to you.
If you’ve already built up an audience, send out a simple, multiple-choice survey. Learn what motivated them to become users, what they perceive as your benefits, even just who they are—all of this data helps inform future customer acquisition. You can also understand more about your current offering—what’s working, areas to improve, features to eliminate.
If your business is online and you are launching something potentially complicated, invite people over and watch them use it. There are two keys to this: 1. Shut up and watch (don’t lead them, even if they’re struggling). 2. Get people who are not part of your tech-savvy community (unless that’s your target). And once you are getting significant traffic, A/B test headlines, buttons, and calls-to-action: single, tangible variables for which you can easily compare data.
Of course, research should never be used as a crutch: When you’re starting something new, there are leaps of faith that must occur. If you rely too heavily on consumer opinion, you will never get anywhere that no one has been before (this is especially true when trying to "test" names or design). But what’s true in life is true in business: There’s a value that comes from listening, even if you then choose to go your own way.
Yes, there are obviously selfish reasons for going to work every day. Success certainly leads to financial and emotional rewards, even more pronounced when you own the business. But the surest way to achieve this success is by rewarding others first. So remember your lessons from your favorite holiday movie, practice generosity, and just like the Grinch’s heart, watch your business grow.