What’s better than a horse?

Part 1 - "It's new therefore it's confusing"

What happens when you have an actual, real, smart innovation to offer to the market, but the market isn’t ready to jump on it… yet?

We talk a lot about the importance of having a good product-market fit — which, in short, means that your product/service is perfectly aligned with what your target audience wants, or needs.

And that’s an important distinction for any innovator to make: does your offer cater to what your target audience wants, or what they need?

If it’s about what they want, then you’re selling something that’s already familiar to them. That may sound like great news — your target audience already understands it (or they believe they do), they already know they want it, so it should be easy enough to sell it, right? But here’s the bad news: when you’re selling something familiar, you’re competing against the world and his dog. Can you take them on and come out as a winner, (is your USP strong enough)[link to USP post] to convince your target market to buy from you and not from someone else?

On the other hand, what your customers want — and what’s already on the market — isn’t automatically the right solution for them. Especially if you’re an innovator in your field, you’ve maybe found a better way to satisfy a need — which means, most of your target market doesn’t have a clue (yet) that they want your (new as yet unheard of) product.

It happens more often than you might think, that people believe they want something but they actually need something else — which, by the way, is yet another reason why it’s not such a smart idea to rely too much on customers’ opinion when developing a new product. Henry Ford famously summed it up as: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So, if you are a true innovator who has developed a solution such that people don’t yet know is the right one, the good news is that you might have little competition.

The challenge however is you will have to go through the pain and risk of educating the market that what you offer really is what your audience needs. How do you do that in a way that people 1. Will listen to, and 2. Doesn’t sound “I know better than you” patronising.

“It’s new, therefore it’s confusing”

Henry Ford could have said, when he first introduced the motor car to the public: “This is better than a horse.” But I imagine quite a lot of people would have thought, “Is it, really? It’s noisy, I don’t understand it, it looks dangerous.”

The public — or your target market — can have real issues with your solution before they accept it and start using it.

If you described Uber to someone 10 years ago, what do you think are the chances that they’d say: “Wow, what a great idea, to have an unlicensed taxi driver with no knowledge of maps come in their own personal car and pick up my children and take them off to some destination”?


You can’t just tell people: “Great news, you don’t need compact discs to enjoy your favourite music anymore. You won’t even own your music or choose it yourself, you just trust us to put together ‘playlists’ and store them invisibly on this much more expensive device, it’s fantastic!”

But… How does it work? How do you know what I like? Is it reliable? How many other people have tried it? — This is only a small portion of questions that go through the head of an average user presented with a new solution.

Which is why if you have an innovative, need-led product or service that you are about to introduce to the market — you should completely forget about the average user. Your company would probably go bankrupt before the average user gets his/her questions answered in a satisfying way, and decides to buy what you offer.

Instead, you need to define and locate the people who would be your early adopters, those wonderful risk-takers who are willing to bet on something new before the mainstream accepts it. Maybe these people are themselves innovators, those who are always looking for the next leap forwards, an advantage over their peers, or possibly they have rooms full of beta max video recorders, laser disc players and first production Google Glass glasses. Think about what about your product would make them tick, what words and tone of voice you should use to get them interested or at least curious to find out more.

I say products, of course it works the same for services too. My first 121 clients — my early adopters — took a big risk working with me. My website was brand new, my track record was elsewhere, I didn’t have any relevant case studies or testimonials. They didn’t know if I was any good. I believe they bought from me because they liked me, perhaps because I was authentic, certainly not because of any hard sales push or slick marketing (I didn’t do any). And that happened because I took a genuine interest in them, in what they needed, and I found a way to communicate it to them.

So, this mistrust of ‘the new’ is the first major challenge when educating the market. It can be overcome if you focus on your early adopters and others who have something to gain from being the first to work with a new technology. 

The second challenge is arguably much harder to overcome… (continued in What’s Better than a Horse? Part 2…)

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