STARTUP

When Your Customer Isn't Who You Expected

When we launched, we aimed at the wrong mark. Here's how we learned to love--and care for--our true customer base.
Advertisement

Knowing who will respond to your product: it's at the heart of any business, and it's something that, early on, I presumed to know. With sleek designs, eco-friendly principles, and a streamlined building process, our company, Blu Homes, was of course targeting hip 30-somethings.

I figured we'd be a hit with modern young professionals and couples eager to own homes that match their principles and their aesthetics both.

I was wrong. So wrong.

What happens when your customer isn't who you thought they were? It's time to adapt to the unexpected and to do some digging. Here's how we did it, and what we learned about ourselves along the way.

Surprise: Being open to the unexpected.

In our world where everything moves at a frenetic pace, it makes sense that we thought we'd appeal to those who have lived in this era of instant gratification and information since Day 1. And to a large extent, we do. But they are only part of the story, and not the core demographic that has helped get us off the ground and develop recognition as a reputable and exciting company. Rather, it's their grandmothers.

Our very first Blu customer was not a young Californian looking to be cutting-edge green. Instead, it was a 60-something woman from Rhode Island, who, with her partner, wanted to build an efficient and beautiful home that embraced environmentally friendly principles.

What we thought might be a fluke turned out to be the norm. Forward-thinking 60- and 70-year-olds (and older!) came to us knowing what they wanted, attracted to the simplicity of the streamlined design and the quick process, and more secure in their home needs than many just starting out in the world of home ownership.

So, you thought you'd for sure be selling to one group, and another walks through your door? Be open to surprises and ready to adapt. You never know in what ways it might transform your business for the better.

Seeing your business through new eyes.

For savvy older homebuyers, efficiency is key. No one wants a lengthy, arduous building process--especially those looking to make the most of their golden years! Therefore time is an important factor--they want the enjoyment, but not the difficult process in getting there. And that, it turns out, is where Blu comes in.

So it was time for us to adapt. Yes, our complex building technology is cool and state-of-the-art. But all that behind-the-scenes technology also allows for something crucial: simplicity. Really, it's a faster building process. And it's there, in the product of the high-tech foundation of our company, that the appeal begins for many of our older customers.

The process of creating something beautiful, modern and efficient suddenly doesn't need to take years and years. Our research and experience has resulted in a new kind of homebuilding process by which a retiree can realize something that previously would have meant seemingly endless mountains of work… and hundreds of thousands of dollars in customizations.

The fixed price of the Blu process makes for an even more attractive product, especially when coupled with energy-saving features that make for drastically reduced home-operating costs overall. Therefore, the appeal of what we had created took on a new life as something not just smart and cutting-edge, but as efficient and reliable…and perfect for those on a fixed income. These are things in which we already took pride as part of our business, but their importance became clear when more and more came to us citing the draw of our unique process.

With this knowledge, we took a look at ourselves through this new lens, and crafted new ways of talking about our company--from messaging to marketing collateral--that honed in on this idea. Furthermore, we put an increased internal focus on our simple, A-to-Z approach to homebuilding, looking for ways to make our system even more efficient.

The takeaway: Be ready to re-frame or focus your business in terms of your new audience. See the benefits and the attraction through their eyes, so that you (and your marketing team) can put those advantages right out front for them.

The road ahead: Keep your customer at the heart of your decisions.

Now to the question of how we continue to value our core older customer while also expanding and evolving in some of the ways we've always envisioned.

Part of the answer is not to underestimate our homebuyers. Our customers, including one remarkable woman in her 80s, are for the most part savvy tech users. (The skills and knowledge of 21st-century Boomers and retirees are not to be dismissed!).

So when we built our long-anticipated home Configurator, for example, in which your home personalization choices come to life in real time in 3-D, our core customers saw the benefit. We made sure the Configurator was intuitive and user-friendly so that all age groups and tech literacy levels would be able to use it. 

Without an office to go to, most of those savvy older customers also forego a laptop or desktop computer in lieu of an iPad or tablet. No surprise, then, that we have begun development on a suite of apps. We had long wanted to create something of this kind, but once we knew exactly who we were targeting, the way to go about it--and the urgency of doing so--became clear.

The takeaway: Don't underestimate your audience, and keep your customer base at the center of your plans for future growth as you learn more about it. The re-framing you've done will help you see new paths toward keeping your core customers happy, and will reveal ways in which your existing ideas and plans can be made to line up with their needs.

It's thanks in part to the ensuing rave reviews from this first wave of crucial customers that we have managed to catch the eye of so many new kinds of homeowners. For that, it's hats off to the savvy, green grandmas of the world.

Last updated: Jul 16, 2012

MAURA MCCARTHY | Columnist | Co-founder, Blu Homes

Maura McCarthy had been a venture capital investor at Ironwood Equity when she co-founded Blu Homes. She is a board member of The Capital Network, and is part of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Renewable Energy Business Network.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: