The Four Steps to Niche Audience
Or, how to find the focus that drives your startup
Focus is odd in the sense that, unlike most things, its plural form makes no sense. What are “focuses”? Can you focus on more than one thing?
Maybe if you are a chameleon or a fly, but mere humans lack that ability. We need one target, one goal.
One life, you got to do what you should.
Many startups struggle with finding focus, you’re not the only one. Many startups get killed out there because they couldn’t achieve focus. Don’t be like that. First, determine your current state. It’s either one of the two cases:
Case 1: No focus
You can see it in the contradicting communications (internal and external), in the roadmap, and usually in every sprint. It’s usually pretty obvious, so no need to dwell on it.
Case 2: Pseudo focus
It’s similar to case one but with one major difference, you think you are focused and in control when actually you are not. You may say “priorities have shifted” or “new opportunities have emerged” but actually you’re not sure where to steer the boat. If you want to know for sure, ask your employees, stakeholders, or customers. You don’t have to be direct. Simply ask “what is our focus/mission?” and see how consistent (or not) the answers are. Most likely they will be over the place.
Focus, for me, being product-led, starts with your customers. Early on, your niche audience is what should drive your focus. Finding it might not always be that easy or intuitive, so here is my framework with which I help early-stage startups find Product/Market Fit.
Step 1: The Destination
All your (relevant) customers have one thing in common. They all need you to take them to the same place. That destination is what makes them part of the same market. Think of a bus ride. All passengers want to arrive at the same destination. Your job is to figure that destination out. That destination is also your promise to them, your value proposition. Start by understanding your value from the view of your customers. But it’s not enough.
Step 2: The Origin
Sticking to the bus analogy, say all these passengers want to get to downtown Manhattan. You can take them all there, but most likely they come from multiple locations. To serve them well you need a lot of busses and even more stations. Good luck with that “lean” approach. At the early stages, it is best to niche down by grouping your audience based on their “origin”, as well as their “destination”. In our bus analogy, it means you will start serving passengers that want to get to downtown Manhattan and are from the Bronx (or wherever the audience is a better fit). Generally speaking, you need to look at their current state. Where are they in life? If you know where your audience is coming from, and where they want you to lead them, you’re halfway to focus.
Step 3: The Force
When Luke Skywalker left Tatooine, he was motivated by revenge. That was the force that drove him through his epic journey. What force is driving your audience? In our bus analogy, there must be something that has motivated them to hop on a bus and go on that journey. In consumer markets, things vary greatly, but in B2B it’s usually about catching up with the competition or staying ahead of it. Businesses want to do better, while consumers want to feel better. Generally speaking. But that is vague, so you need to go deeper and find the real motivation. Is it more money? Better health? Productivity? The only way to find that out is by talking to them.
Step 4: The Trigger
There are many people who want or even need to get on your bus, but they don’t. Those that did, did it because of an external trigger you may know nothing of. For example, it might be that a friend is in town and wants to meet downtown, or maybe their favorite band is performing live. Knowing your audience comes from Jersey to Manhattan to see Greta Van Fleet perform live gives you all the focus you need to build an amazing, yet lean experience. In B2B, this might be that your customer has a big project coming up, and they need your offering to ensure it goes smoothly. Knowing what triggered them can also help you fine-tune your marketing efforts, and not just the product.
Niching down is critical to allow you to gain as much traction with as little effort as possible. For that, you need to intimately understand your audience. It starts with what value your customers are seeking. Their expectations and aspirations. Use their own words when you communicate it further.
Next, you need to understand where they come from. Ask about their past to learn about how you may best serve (and monetize) them. Understanding their current state can be very useful when building audiences for marketing campaigns.
Next up is figuring out their motivation. Is there a boss they need to impress (and some reportings you should facilitate for that)? Or maybe they are wasting your time? Their motivation should reveal that and you can find it by simply asking “why” repeatedly.
Lastly, figure out what triggered them to be interested in your offering. It might be a campaign you did, but there usually will be a preceding trigger that made them open for your pitch in the first place. Maybe they closed a huge deal and need you to guarantee success. Maybe it’s internal growth that requires additional tools and services. Figure the trigger so you can relate to it and leverage it.
Figuring your audience through these four lenses will help you build efficient products and design efficient marketing assets. Your vision for a whole product that serves everyone will wait for round D.
Need help with your audience? Let’s chat…