A few years ago, I met a woman who was trying to peddle a painting created by a relatively famous Western painter.
This painter had painted it specifically for her family. It was the story about how her father acquired his favorite horse. He was hiking somewhere and came across a dead mare tangled in barb wire with the colt standing next to the body. The poor colt didn’t know what to do without his mom. So her father took the colt home and raised him.
The painter (who knew her father personally) was so moved by this story he went to his studio and painted it. He then gave the portrait to her father, who treasured it. However, the father had recently died, and the woman wanted to sell the painting.
In her mind, it was worth quite a bit. The painter was famous, many of his paintings went for quite a bit of money. And it was a one-of-a-kind. Buyers should be lined up around the block to snap it up. She thought she should be fighting them off with a riding crop.
But to her utter surprise and astonishment, no one was interested. More then that, they didn’t want to buy it for ANY price, much less the price of what she thought it was worth. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out the problem.
She actually had the painting with her when she told this story, and unwrapped it to show everyone. So I got to see this painting, which I’ve never been able to get out of mind. This picture of a dead horse, wrapped in barbwire, with the poor colt standing close by, head bowed in mourning. The landscape is beautiful but bleak and desolate around him.
Needless to say, I took one look at this painting and knew EXACTLY why she was having trouble selling it. First off, it was disturbing. The horse is clearly dead, the barbwire wrapped around her was bloody. And the colt looks so alone and helpless in the landscape. (It reminded me a bit of the scene in Dumbo where Dumbo was saying goodbye to his mother, who is wrapped in chains. Another dreadful scene.)
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with disturbing, plenty of people buy disturbing art. But not her target market. Her target market is people who buy Western art. Western art is realistic art. While many times there is a sense of loneliness and desolation, I wouldn’t classify much of it as actually disturbing.
On top of that, many people who buy Western art love horses. People who love horses probably wouldn’t want a painting of a dead horse hanging in their living room. (Call me crazy, I know.)
So, while she probably does have something valuable on her hands (a one-of-a-kind painted by a famous artist) it’s not what the target market buys. And that, my friends, is the point I’m trying to make.
It doesn’t matter how good your product is or how much you believe your target market NEEDS what you’re selling. If it’s not a good fit, it isn’t going to matter because they won’t buy.
So the first thing you need to look at is this:
Is what you’re selling (whether it’s a product or service) something your target market WANTS to buy? Not needs to buy but wants to buy. No one buys what they need, people buy what they want. Many times they’ll justify it as “need” (i.e. I need a dress for the wedding, I need to eat organic food because it’s better for my health) but those are still wants, not needs. You WANT to show up at the wedding in a nice dress, but no one is going to shoot you if you show up in jeans. (Dirty looks maybe but no executions.) You WANT to take good care of yourself so you buy organic, but you can live a long time on cheap, non organic food. (Maybe you’ll have other health problems, but you’ll still be alive.)
If what you’re selling is not what your target market wants to buy, then you need to either find a different target market or sell something different.
And if what you’re selling IS what your target market wants to buy, but they’re not buying it, then you need to look at how you’re explaining it so people realize they do want to buy it.
Here’s another quick example of making sure what you’re selling matches up to what your target market is buying. You may have noticed Hollywood is coming out with an Incredible Hulk movie. But wait, you might be thinking, hasn’t there already been an Incredible Hulk movie? Why yes, in 2003. But the movie didn’t do very well. Why? Well, common thought is because people go see an Incredible Hulk movie because they want to see a big green guy running amok and wreaking all sorts of havoc. The one in 2003 didn’t deliver — it was a slower, angst-ridden Hulk we saw, not one gleefully stomping about ripping police cars in half.
Whether or not this Hulk movie does better in the box office is yet to be seen, and it’s really besides the point. The point is, Marvel Comics believed that the first movie did not deliver what their target market wanted, and therefore the target market did not buy. So, they decided to repackage it and re-release it (to the tune of $150 million).
If Marvel Comics is willing to redo a movie and spend $150 million on it, how much are YOU willing to spend to repackage your services and products to better match to what your target market wants to buy?