Alien or a Foreigner? How to know when your idea is too ‘out there’ for customers to understand.

Over here we’re all about helping companies craft their product & service offerings so they’ll have something different to bring to their sea of sameness markets where everyone is more or less doing the same thing. And as an outcome of doing so, they’ll get more visibility, a higher chance of connecting with and being chosen by their ideal customer, be able to charge higher prices (and have their customers more than willing to pay), and more word of mouth (aka free) marketing going on.

So should you really push the boat out creatively and create something so unique that it’s like meeting an alien species for the first time?

Actually no. We’d not recommend you try take people to Mars. But how about Fiji? (or any other semi- exotic location on Earth).

One represents a disorienting confusion where you have no idea what’s going on, and in comparison the other is a pleasant novelty. In the grand scheme of things, Fiji isn’t all that different. There’s still people, water, food, and most of the stuff you’re familiar with- just with slightly different customs, weather, and scenery.

If you’re too different, you’ll likely confuse your customers.

And two things will happen- they’ll either not become customers, or you’ll spend too much time & money educating them to get them to the point of clarity where they feel like they are able to know what they’re actually signing up for.

I’ve got a little rule of thumb to make sure your audience lands in Fiji, & not on Mars: One Jump.

You can take people from where they are now, to one jump away. Not two (or more).

Which means grounding them in a sense of familiarity before telling them how what you do differs from what they already know.

A simple format to do this is :

It’s like —– except with/without ——-

Cars are like horses- only a machine made of metal & faster.

A kiwi is like a furry ball with a beak sticking out of it.

A dream is a movie that plays in your head while you’re sleeping.

What you can’t do is start explaining yourself by using a starting point which your audience doesn’t understand.

This would require 2 jumps (or more).

The first to explain what the thing is that they don’t understand that you need them to understand first before they can take another jump to what your thing actually is. Ugh, too hard.

I had this experience somewhat recently when a friend tried to explain what Blockchain technology was.

He explained that it’s technology to ensure that files that get passed from computer to computer always delete the senders copy, so that the recipient’s version is the only one that exists. This is for security and verification so files don’t either become a game of Chinese Whispers- with the information changing down the line, or to ensure authenticity of the original- as in, the file you have is the only one that exists.

(Actually he didn’t explain it quite like that, but that’s what I got from it).

But although I could understand the words he was saying, I couldn’t quite grasp the concept.

This is because I didn’t have a working knowledge of file sharing in the first place. I’ve never been in the position of seeing how files get distorted when passed down the line, or in what circumstances this would happen. I just didn’t have any awareness that this even happened in the first place. It’s not something I’d ever thought about.

I couldn’t clear one of the jumps.

A similar thing happened a few years back when trying to explain to me what ‘the cloud’ was.

…It’s when your files are stored on remote servers, and not on your computer so they can be accessed from anywhere….Ouch! Servers?

It wasn’t until it was explained like this that I was able to ‘get’ the idea:

The cloud is when your files are stored on the internet instead of your computer. It’s like email. All your emails aren’t stored on your computer are they?- you access them by logging into your email online.

At last!

I was able to understand it explained this way because I already knew what email and the internet were. So it only required one jump to explain that this was a wider category of storage called ‘the cloud’.

Using the One Jump rule, there’s 4 actions you can take if you’re getting the sense you’re in Two Jump land.

1: Explain the second jump.

This should only be considered if you have enough runway or a high enough price point to justify spending a lot more time and money communicating a three part message.

2: Find a jump off point your audience can understand.

This is for when you are able to find a suitable substitution for showing your audience what the current state of reality is.

This is what happened when I was able to understand what ‘the cloud’ was. Talking about servers was substituted for talking about email & the internet.

3: Find an audience who understands your jump off point.

This is about preaching to the choir. In the case of Blockchain technology- the choir I’m not.

In this instance, the choir would be those who have experienced problems stemming from file replication or adjustments as it travels from place to place.

4: If nobody understands your jump off point- jump ship!

Say for instance that you went back in time, before email & the internet even existed to try and explain what ‘the cloud’ was. You wouldn’t be able to even reference the internet. You’d first have to explain what the internet is. And that would be hard enough for people who’d never even experienced that.

In these cases, it’s probably just best for now to leave that idea on Mars.

When in Rome speak Romanian…uh, I mean Italian.

Have you been somewhere, and just felt like you didn’t fit in?

Like you’ve got no way of orienting yourself around a certain bunch of people. You can sense that there’s a set of unspoken rules and norms- but you’re not sure what they are. You may feel paralysed and not sure of what to say. You feel like you’re constantly saying the wrong thing (without knowing what it may have been), because you notice people’s stiff fidgety body language, & people’s eyes darting around as they speak to you- trying to find an excuse to exit.

Some would call this culture shock, but it can happen around those in your own city or neighbourhood, and around those with the same ethnic makeup as you.

I had such an experience yesterday that got me thinking a lot about times and place I have felt like this, and lost a bit of sleep trying to figure out why this was.

I had an old friend announce she was coming to town in a couple of week’s time, and wanted to get the old gang together for a shared pot luck dinner (we were all friends at high school). Sounds innocent enough. But then there were the words that sent me into an instant panic: BYO Dish (Vegan friendly welcome).

Which was strange given I think it’s pretty weird that it’s normal in our society to kill and control other creatures for our own purposes. I’m all on board with Veganism.

But it wasn’t what the word meant- it’s what it represented.

It reminded me that I was going to be attending a dinner with a bunch of people who are morally superior (in my head at least)- an intimidating prospect for me given I’m not one to shy away from unpopular, and at times politically incorrect opinions if I feel it to be my truth, or that the factual evidence proves otherwise. I can’t just go along to get along with things that I don’t believe to be true. It feels false and slimy.

It’s not just this, it’s the whole scene. Domesticated civility with everyone’s partners, healthy meals, the congratulatory discussing the ticking off of society dictated life milestones (the degree, the OE, the marriage, the house, the kids etc), ugh. It all just feels a bit too Stepford Wives for me.

I feel like my presence is offensive to the group, and taints their crisp white sanitised soiree with vulgarity.

I feel judged.

And when I really think about it, I tend to have a natural aversion to anything sounding a bit too goodie-two-shoes for the same reason. Clean diet and exercise products, ‘supportive’ and ‘caring’ events, ethical fair-trade silk made by Japanese virgins. And of course Vegan food.

What’s this got to do with business?

In the same way the word ‘Vegan’ stirs up feelings of cultural alienation in me- despite actually thinking Veganism is a good idea, the words you are using in your business, or even in your entire industry may be alienating some of your customers.

But consider the reverse- with just words alone, you may be able to speak to a part of your audience that no one else is speaking to, if you can find a way to speak to them on their terms.

That alone could make your competition irrelevant.

It happened to me- I was changed through the power of words.

If there’s two things I thought I’d never do, it was going to see a counsellor, and getting nutrition advice.
For years I just figured these things just weren’t for me.

They talk about ‘finding balance’ (what does that even mean?!), ‘nourishment’ (isn’t that just eating healthy, but with a smothering overly attentive mothering spin to it? Uh, that sounds kinda overbearing. I don’t want things to be too serious), talk of depression or anxiety (hey, we all have ups and downs and that’s normal right?), and I didn’t quite get the logic how talking could help cure me- I talk all the damn time anyway. Plus, I’ve been a ‘media approved’ size most of my life, eat okay most of the time, and therefore don’t feel any pressure to go on a diet.

It just didn’t seem like something I even needed, or even if I did, it came across a bit woo woo that I felt I wouldn’t get anything out of it.

It wasn’t until it was put in my language that I even considered going to see a health coach (for both mental & physical health).

“If you’re not able to get to sleep, and you’ve tried everything else why not just give things a go?” was how it was put.

Fair enough. Can’t argue with that.

Then when I got there, we discussed my situation a bit, before I started asking questions about how it actually worked. How was all this talking stuff supposed to cure my sleep?

“Well, we can develop behaviours and ways of thinking when we’re under stress, but these can become habits that stick once we’re no longer in the stressful situation from which they came. So we need to retrace your steps back to when some of your more unhelpful habits came about so that we can pick apart the situation back then, to really understand your habits, then replace these with other behaviours…it appears you’ve got a whole lot of these going on which are stressing you out, and not letting your mind shut down at night to go to sleep. Plus there’s a few things you could be consuming less of to help here too.”

Sounds logical. Let’s do it!

So I did. And my sleep was greatly improved.

But if it were never explained in a way I could understand, I would never have done it.

And who knows, maybe there’s a whole bunch of others like me out there, who would otherwise be interested in such a service if it were only explained in our language. If there is, a company that was able to do so may very well be able to tap an entire market that no one else is touching. And they wouldn’t have to compete with others offering a similar service.

All it would take is choosing to use a few different words.