No business intentionally tries to confuse its customers. Still, it happens frequently, and often without the owner, CEO, or leadership team noticing, because “confused customers” are never the result of a single action, but the result of many small and incremental steps.
For example, trying to serve every possible customer need is often the first step to sending confusing (mixed) messages.
Of course, early on (startup years), many businesses will take all the work they can get because of tight cash flow. To some extent, this is understandable, because they are still trying to survive, learn where the exact need is, and what specific niche they should focus on.
However, this can no longer be the excuse after multiple years in business. By then, a company should have positioned its product/service with laser focus, so that there is no confusion on the type of customer they serve (and who they don’t).
Yet, most companies are sending mixed messages well past their survival (cash poor) stage. So how exactly are they confusing their customers, and more importantly, what can they do to fix it?
Yes, Yes, and Yes
If you’ve ever done any home renovations, you know that your general contractor will say “yes” to almost anything you need. Everything from a complete remodel to replacing a smoke alarm. He/She can do it all!
They may subcontract some of this work, but in customer’s eyes, they can do it all (the jack of all trades), so what is wrong with this type of business model?
For one, it’s impossible to build a strong brand around a business that does too many different things. For example, if your customers are continually asking, “Can you do…” then your product/service offering it too broad.
Most people that come through your door/store/website should be clear about your product/service, and the questions should revolve around how your particular solution/service/product is superior, and not, “Can you do…”
You may not want your business to feel one dimensional, but that is precisely what you need to do.
If you cannot easily be placed in a box, you will never cement your business/brand in the customer’s mind.
Furthermore, saying yes to every customer request makes growth difficult and expensive. Sales, operations, support, and marketing costs are much higher when you don’t focus.
For example, if you are developing accounting software, you are far better off focusing on self-employed (freelance) customers than everyone – self-employed, small business, fortune 500, startup vs. established, and so on.
All these businesses (customers) have very different needs, so trying to serve them all well is impossible. Therefore, even if a large company shows interest in your accounting software, you should turn the opportunity down. Focus only on the niche you know you can execute effectively and better than your competition.
Pivot (New Direction)
You may have done everything right – research, product design, engineering, launch, promotion, etc. However, sometimes a business/product/service is just off the mark. What you thought customers wanted is not what they really needed.
Pivots, while often necessary, can be very confusing to customers. The problem arises when a pivot is not given a chance to succeed -often, the initiative (pivot) is killed within the first 12 months. In addition to internal changes that a pivot demands, it takes years (not months) of marketing for most customers to recognize a pivot (new direction).
Therefore, if you start a pivot and then go back to your original business model/product/service, you just created a lot of confusion in the market, and more importantly, in your customer’s mind.
Some customers would have recognized your pivot, and are now wondering why you are backtracking. However, most customers would have seen a lot of changes without realizing the pivot (new direction).
And we all know that customers don’t like big changes, especially if they don’t understand why your company is making them. So backtracking only exaggerates the problem and adds to the confusion.
To avoid confusing customers, make sure you follow through with your pivot. Also, understand that it takes years (not months) of marketing for most customers to recognize a pivot – your new direction.
Your store may state “premium,” but your website states “budget.” Your website may state “experts,” but your online content states “generalist.” We can go on and on. The point being, if you are trying to position your business/brand in a particular way (e.g., premium), then all your customer communications (online and offline) need to be consistent (e.g., feel premium).
If you are striving to communicate “expertise” and “experience,” then your website, social media, email, and advertising have to communicate the same message.
For example, having a junior employee create all your online content will typically not demonstrate “expertise” and “experience.”
Furthermore, some simple truths cannot be ignored. Consumers rely on price to determine the quality of a product. You may not agree with this statement, but all the research has shown it to be true.
Therefore, if you are trying to position your product/service as a superior (higher quality) offering, then your price and marketing need to reinforce that position. For example, regular price changes and large discounts do not.
Be mindful of the message your marketing is sending because if you do not act consistently, you will create more confusion in your customer’s mind.
As we stated at the beginning, no business tries to confuse its customers intentionally. However, it often happens because business owners, founders, and executives fail to see how their everyday actions confuse customers.
Saying “yes” to every customer request, pivoting poorly, or sending mixed messages will stagnate your growth, or even worse, shrink it.