The Intentionally Inclusive Market

Every business has a customer segment. This is the group of people you’re selling to who share a similar set of needs, characteristics, habits, and desires as one another.

Yet, most of us misunderstand the full scope of our customer segments, for two reasons.

First, we may build for a particular demographic group (such as age, gender, ethnicity, income) and not realize that other groups may find this product useful. For instance, we may realize that there isn’t a great personal budgeting tool, so we go and create one. Yet, we create it for an upper-middle-class audience, and from day one we don’t think about any other customer segment besides this one. We know that there is a market large and big enough with this customer segment, so why would we need to focus on any other customer segment right now? We assume that we can always get to that additional customer segment down the road, but don’t realize that we might be jeopardizing a larger market opportunity by not building trust with a wide range of customers from the start.

In reality, customer segments are not driven by demographics, but instead by a common “unmet need” that the group shares.

The second reason is simple. Unfortunately, we have our own subjective lens, and, for most of us, the people we’re typically around and engaged with are those who are similar to us. We know our personal needs and the needs of those around us really well. And it may not even occur to us to expand our research further. In doing so we create solutions to the common unmet need that might work for a subset of the customer segment, but not the whole. Therefore, the products and services we end up building are solutions for problems either we or our close circle of (similar) friends have encountered.

We need to get to know the full range of our customer segment from day one, and then intentionally build products that include all kinds of people who will benefit from our products. To do this we need to begin by getting to know all of our potential customers.

Building Inclusive Products

  1. Design with, not for, people. This begins with listening. “Product leaders must empower intended communities of use to make product decisions, rather than just validating them.” Create a community task force to seek out the full spectrum of possible customers. Come alongside these people: listen, seek to understand, make them feel important, and if you can, compensate them for their knowledge. It’s amazing how much insight you will gain just by listening. It’s likely that many of your assumptions and blindspots will disappear when you hear from people who have different experiences than you. But, it all starts with engaging people who are dissimilar to you.
  2. Use representation as a tool to attract a diverse customer base. A great way to make your product appealing and inclusive to a wide range of customers is to re-think how you show up in the world. This can be everything from the imagery on your website and marketing materials, to more subtle cues like colors and aesthetic elements used and product names. For example, Oracle wanted their newest data technology to appeal to a more global audience, so they changed the look and feel to reflect art and colors found all over the world.
  3. Create company-level expectations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This can look like staffing diverse teams and making inclusion a mainstream, measurable practice (whatever is measured gets done!). In full transparency, this is something GAN is actively learning and working towards. A diverse team will naturally lead you to put yourself in the shoes of a number of different types of people and build products to include your full customer base. Plus, research shows that diverse teams are more creative and empathetic, work smarter, and problem-solve more effectively.
  4. Align product design with outcomes related to inclusivity. This could mean attracting and retaining a diverse set of customers, or simply creating a smooth and inclusive experience with your product.

Getting To Know Our Customers

Essentially, this helps us take a look at the common struggle, or unmet needs, among the “personas” in our customer segment. For example, your segment could be people who want packages delivered more reliably, or need to find free parking, or need to be empowered to make informed decisions when choosing a doctor. Building our customer segment around a common “unmet need” helps us arrive at our group more quickly and accurately than using demographic personas. And, we’ll likely end up with a much larger customer base.

An Example of Building for the Unmet Need

When a big fast-food chain wanted to increase sales, the management started by asking customers questions to improve their products, like “can we make our milkshakes chocolatier? Cheaper? Chunkier?” But that didn’t help. The restaurant chain then hired a group of experts including management guru Clay Christensen.

By collecting data such as the time at which customers brought the milkshake, what they wore at the time, what else did they buy, and so on, Christensen recounts in his book Competing Against Luck, they were able to glean some insights. Most customers bought milkshakes in the morning to get through a long, boring drive to work. That meant the milkshakes sold in the morning had to be more viscous and should take longer to finish.

Finding out the common “unmet need” helped the fast-food chain get to know exactly who their customers were, and how to meet their needs. This came to be known as the famous Jobs To Be Done theory.

For this insight to come through, one of Christensen’s colleagues stood outside a restaurant for 18 hours taking notes and collecting data on who their customers were.

Christensen writes, “What these milkshake buyers had in common had nothing to do with their individual demographics. Rather, they all shared a common job they needed to get done in the morning: ‘Help me stay awake and occupied while I make my morning commute more fun.’”

By understanding the common need of their customer (not the demographics of the customer!) the restaurant successfully swooped in to meet the right need, at the right time, for the right people.

It’s Never Too Late To Make Adjustments

For example, in the last year, the pandemic has revealed significant inequities in the technology sector. Being at home has required all of us to do our jobs, go to school, and connect with friends and family in a digital format. The elderly and the very young might be unfamiliar with new technology advancements that are now required to participate in daily life. Or other customer segments of the “digital world” are left behind because they don’t have access to the required device, or internet connection is not available. Research from BCG is helping technology companies design for the “new normal” by involving customers from all segments in the design process and uncovering roadblocks. They are also encouraging designers to incorporate “digital upskilling” into their technology. A good example of upskilling is the kiosks at airline check-in areas. Agents are available to help customers use the kiosk the first time, and the next time they will be more likely to use the kiosk without help. This methodology can be adopted in most digital formats. For instance, GAN Ventures startup Mesh++ is helping bring internet access to rural areas around the world through creating mesh networks, further empowering people who never had access to the internet before.

The Benefits of the Inclusive Product

We can’t wait to continue learning and creating more inclusive products and markets with you.

Helping to give startups the power to create and grow their business wherever they are as CEO of GAN: @GANconnect

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