What Does Your Product Mean to Your Customers?

Your product isn’t just about filling a need but creating a new source of meaning in your customers’ lives. Beyond that, the connection between what is meaningful to the creators of a brand and what is meaningful to the consumers of its products create something that transcends the transactional.

In his book, Design-Driven Innovation, Roberto Verganti writes, “people do not buy products but meanings.”

Simon Sinek famously asked, “Why do you do what you do?” as a way to position your brand and lead the market. But I find that two more effective questions are “What does your product mean to your business?” and “What does your product mean to your customers?”

When your brand is grounded in meaning, you can create the messaging, merchandising, and marketing that tells a story that customers can really buy into. Click to tweet!

Further, when your business can imagine ways to innovate on the meaning of your product, you can create new products that aren’t just different but true game-changers.

Below are 5 brands that really know what value means to their customers. They measure their success in meaning and consistently make decisions based on representing that meaning in their customers’ lives.


Starbucks is a gimme. They trade on ubiquity and consistency while capitalizing on the ever-growing love of craft coffee.

The white & green paper cup represents a known quantity, in the best way possible. Starbucks customers know that inside their cup is the same beverage they always drink, whether in Seattle, the suburban jungle, or the regional airport.

They’ve taken steps in recent years to shore up this consistency. With the launch of the Verismo home brewer last year, Starbucks is hoping customers want to take this meaning home with them, too.


I’m a devoted Evernote user for one simple reason: it means I never have to forget a great idea. Evernote knows this. The headline on their website right now is “Remember everything.”

They know that’s what their product means to their customers so they’ve made an effort to build out the application on every platform. They’ve also incorporated new features like reminders and shortcuts to make sure great ideas never pass its users by.


Moo specializes in easy-to-create business cards. But beyond that, what they really create are conversation starters. The very nature of the product–its customer photos and slick design–give its customers something they can be proud of and something they can use to spark discussion.

For Moo’s customers–budding business owners–that could mean the difference between paying the bills each month or not. That business card isn’t just a way for people to contact them, it’s the key to starting a relationship with someone who could be a lifelong customer.


Copyblogger specializes in “tools & training to make your content work for you.” After teaching copywriting, blogging, and content marketing techniques in its popular blog for many years, Copyblogger launched several software tools that supported its key content strategy. For the Copyblogger team, it meant no longer relying on the increasingly difficult prospect of monetizing content or selling information products.

But for their customers, the move to software meant making it much easier for them to actually put all that great Copyblogger advice to use. Instead of creating content no one was consuming, their customers could find ways to connect to more readers through search, build more effective landing pages, and have better converting websites. And what does that mean to their customers? More money, less time wasted.

Megan Auman

It’s not just big businesses that understand what their products mean to their customers. In fact, small businesses might even have an easier time. Designer Megan Auman could sell her jewelry on its features & benefits: it’s made from recycled steel, weighs next to nothing, and is insanely durable. But her tagline tells a different story, one that really means something to her customers.

Megan Auman products are about “making a statement every day.” For her customers, that means feeling their best no matter whether the day’s outfit is a t-shirt and jeans or their favorite little black dress. In fact, Megan calls her signature line the “little black necklace.” That’s value that immediately means something to her customers and changes the way they approach jewelry.

No matter the product or service your business offers, it means something to your customers. Understanding that meaning–what it looks like, feels like, even smells like!–is the key to making the marketing, product development, and sales decisions that will make your business hum.

Pains Points vs. Pleasure Points

“Pain points” are a key way we get people to pay attention to us as marketers. But when was the last time you spent time or energy developing “pleasure points?”

Pain points serve a purpose. They allow us as product designers to focus on needs and opportunities. They allow us as marketers to grab a prospect’s attention. They allow us as leaders & visionaries to show we can empathize with our prospect’s current situation.

Pain points have often been used to manipulate or shame. But they don’t have to be. And your marketing, sales, and product development will suffer if you don’t spend time identifying and communicating that you understand your customers’ pain points.

Pleasure points, on the other hand, are an underutilized reversal of the this old standby. Sure, you see plenty of “Make More Money,” “10lbs Thinner,” and “More Inner Peace Now” sprinkled around. But is this really painting the picture of pleasure that your prospects are looking for?

Pleasure points are a key way to get attention from your Most Valued Customers, especially in the You Economy, especially in a “saturated” market. And we’re all in the You Economy and most of us are in saturated markets. So how do you pin down your customers’ most important pleasure points?

Often, I ask my clients, “What does that look like?” or “What does that mean for your customer?”


Pleasure points are all about painting the full picture of success. Click to tweet! When you’re 10lbs thinner, you might get to shop at a trendier store for clothes that are a different size. When you’ve got more inner peace, it might look like a cleaner house or a less frazzled schedule.

But it’s also about searching for the deeper meaning of success. When you’re 10lbs thinner, you might be more inclined rekindle the fire in your romance or go looking for romance in the first place. It might mean that you spend less time at the doctor’s and more time in the great outdoors.

Just as Danielle LaPorte talks about using core desires as metrics of success, we can use pleasure points to name those desires, paint a vivid picture of them, and dive further into what those desires mean for our prospects so that we can help them create the “success” they’re after through using our product or service.

The key here is specificity. You’re not aiming to paint a Rothko. You want to aim for something more like photorealism. You must get clear on your customers’ core desires, the unique circumstances those lead to, and what deeper meaning those circumstances hold for your customer.

Sell the End Result, Not the Service (or Product, or Program)

People aren’t looking for your service (or your product, or your program). They’re looking for results.

Your customers want to change the way they feel. They want to adjust the way they act. They have goals, they have desires, they have dreams.

All too often, businesses position their offers around the “what” of what they’re offering instead of the “why” people would actually go looking for it in the first place. Further compounding this problem, is that business models are built around “whats” instead of “whys.”

Instead of considering the best ways to achieve the desired end result for you and your customer, many business owners build models that are based on how a particular service or product has always been delivered. There’s a status quo web design model, a status quo life coach model, a status quo jewelry model.

When was the last time status quo got you the results you wanted?

You can build a business model that is focused on results, different from the rest of the marketplace, and more effective for your customers. But to do that, you need to start by making sure your core product or service is positioned function-first.

Here are 3 easy ways to reposition your offers around why your customers are actually looking to buy in the first place.

1) Lead with value, not the name of your product or service.

Your product isn’t the selling point, so why make it your headline?

If your service helps people feel better about their bodies, lead with that. If your product helps make a brand more memorable, put that front & center. If your program, helps people feel more confident about the business decisions they make and, consequently make more money, make that the star.

2) Make good use of “before & after.”

Just because you’re not Extreme Makeover doesn’t mean your product can’t benefit from some before & after swagger.

It might be as simple as listing a feature that implies the “before,” as this Bang Buster headband from Lululemon does. Or it might involve turning your customers’ before into a bullet point list that exudes empathy and an equally empathetic list of bullets that describe the “after” your customers have in mind.

3) Use visuals that allow your customers to see themselves getting the results they want.

Great visual merchandising helps customers see themselves actually owning, using, and loving a product. That’s why you prefer flipping through an Ikea catalog to browsing Amazon. While this might be standard practice for physical products, it’s also extremely useful for services and programs.

Maybe you use beautiful photos of happy mamas. Or images of curvy bodies successfully practicing yoga.

Instead of just focusing on you, let your customers see themselves achieving the results they want.

Side note: Stocksy has become my go-to source of non-stocky stock images.

I mostly pointed to sales page examples in this post (click the links above to see the examples) but positioning must be woven through all parts of your business–from the Most Valued Customer you seek to engage to your brand identity to your regular email communication. Dive deeper into the businesses I highlighted here and you’ll see a results-centered culture at the heart of everything they do.

Remember, your product is important to you but it’s results your customers are after. Click to tweet. Make how life will be different–whether in big ways or small–the focus of how your engage your customers and you’re sure to get bigger, better results for yourself.


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“The clarity I now have around the business I want to build, not just this year but over the next five, is a bigger, fancier diamond than I even imagined uncovering.”
— Laura Whitman, co-founder, Red Balloon Relations

What You Need to Know Before You Read Anything Else on “Marketing”

Everyone wants more marketing (read: promotional) ideas. As a blogger and strategist, it would be far easier for me to get clicks (and dollars) if I focused on how to get your big idea in front of more eyeballs.

But more often than not, when I sit down with a client, promotion is not the problem. She’s doing all the “right” things but it’s making little impact on her bottom line. And more importantly, it’s not impacting the people she wants to serve. That’s a lot of effort to pour into something that’s not putting anything back in her financial or emotional bank accounts.

Instead of focusing on promotional techniques, we check into her business model.

  • Is it set up to harness her strengths and the way her organization works best?
  • Is it compatible with the way her Most Valued Clients want to be served?
  • Does it address the whole customer and the way s/he naturally evolves?
  • Does it take into account the ebb & flow of the conversation the business & its customers participate in?

So, stop for a moment and check in with me here: Is promotion the problem? Or do you need a better model?

Your business model is the way your business creates value (solutions for customers’ needs or desires), delivers value (how those solutions get into the hands of your customers), and exchange value (how your business receives value in return for the value your business provides). I’ve written before on how to quantify this for your own business and how to consider whether the model you’ve got actually works.

But I’d like to take this idea to another level and talk about “social business models.” As I see it, a social business model is one that not only demonstrates how your business creates, delivers, and exchanges value but does so in a way that is tailor-made to the strengths of you (or your organization) and your customer and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation.

It’s not enough to build a model that “works” in terms of numbers. If your business model isn’t built in a way that works for you and your customer, you’ll expend an enormous amount of energy trying to achieve ill-conceived goals.

As Jonathan Fields recently put it in a post on “Upstream Alignment Metrics“–fancy phrase, important subject:

Does the product, business and mode of delivery that customers are telling you they value enough to pay you to create align with the fiber of your being, your sense of meaning, fulfillment, your maker’s modus operandi and ideal life?

There’s a better way.

When your business model works–when it’s social, you’ll be able to count on your own personal strengths and less on your ability to “power through.” You’ll spend less time spastically promoting your business and more time attracting the right people. You’ll have work days that flow instead of feeling like your potential each day is less-than-fulfilled.

But perhaps the best part is that when you develop a business model that is social, you gain an incredibly powerful new team member for your business: your customer. Instead of making decisions in a vacuum, you can weigh each decision against the point-of-view of your customer. You’ll know what products you need to develop and when, you’ll know better how to price them, and you’ll have a more holistic, integrated approach to the way you serve your customers.

Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief:
you can stop searching for the killer promotional technique. You can stop worrying if you’re doing “marketing” right.

Instead, you can make your model work for you.

When your business model is social, it:

  • Grows from the understanding of your customer as a living, breathing, evolving human being.
  • Understands your market as a conversation in which you participate but don’t control.
  • Puts the function of what you offer first, well before format or price-point.
  • Allows you to work in a way that makes you feel most masterful and puts your customer at ease.
  • Involves your customer, whether directly or indirectly, in all decisions.

Customers are evolving human beings.

Customers’ questions change. Their needs change. Their desires change. Some businesses solve this by providing high-end, bespoke services. Others develop broad product suites of specialized solutions. Still others develop a single product that incorporates feature add-ons until the cows come home.

Which speaks to your strengths? How do your customers like to be served?

Your target market is a target conversation.

Customers control the conversation, not businesses. Your model can have the flexibility to adapt to the conversation as it changes.

Where do your strengths line up with the current conversation? How can your customers guide its evolution?

People want holes, not drills.

At least that’s what David Ogilvy said, and I couldn’t agree more. Building your model function-first means that each product evolves from a perceived need (or set of needs) your customers have. Forget trying to build out your model to some previously established set of offers.

What kind of “holes” are your customers asking for? Which “holes” is your business uniquely equipped to make?

When you operate masterfully, your customers feel at ease.

Part of operating masterfully is knowing how your business operates best. Not every business specializes in customer service. Not every business values customized services. Not every business speaks to the masses and draws a crowd.

When do you feel most masterful? When do your customers feel most at ease?

Your customers can guide your every decision.

Most entrepreneurs don’t suffer from a lack of ideas or a misunderstanding of tactics. They have difficulty making decisions between a whole lot of things that seem really good. Customers can help you make better, more confident decisions.

Does your model have a system in place to consider the customer’s perspective? Are you listening?

Remember, promotion probably isn’t the problem. If your model isn’t working for you, your business won’t ever feel like it’s working to begin with. Today, stop and consider whether your business is set up to work to your strengths, make your customer feel at ease, and bring you both together to make things flow.

How to Put ‘The Perspective Map’ to Good Use

The Perspective Map has been a tool I’ve been using with clients for years. We’ve had great success applying their findings to marketing campaigns, messaging, sales pages, and product development. I personally have used it to develop the ideas and marketing behind products & programs like The Art of Earning, The Art of Growth, and 10ThousandFeet.

The Perspective Map from Tara GentileIt’s no surprise then that it’s my go-to tool. And I hope it will become yours.

Now that you have this tool, I want to give you three practical ways to use it. (And if you haven’t gotten The Perspective Map yet, you can grab it here.)

The Perspective Map gives you a way to record your observations and inferences about how your customers see their current need or desire. Once you’ve got it all figured out, here’s how you can apply it immediately:

1) Identify their current situation.

Customers and prospects desperately want to know that you “get them.” Part of this is being able to communicate that you understand where they’re at, right now. You see their struggle. You hear their questions. You share their desires.

Whether you’re a life coach, a web developer, or a jewelry designer, you want to be able to say to your customers, “I see you.” Take what you’ve recorded in the Say, Do, Think, and Feel boxes and use it to say exactly that on your sales pages or product descriptions.

Try using phrases like, “You want to…” or “You feel like…”

Don’t be afraid to get specific and describe their circumstances with details. Don’t be afraid that the details you’ve come up with don’t apply to some customers. Even details that are a little off help others see themselves in the circumstances you’re describing.

Lisa Claudia Briggs, a 10ThousandFeet alumna, used The Perspective Map to create a brilliant description of her Most Valued Client’s current situation. She works with women who feel things deeply and want to lose all kinds of weight. She writes of the women she works with:

  • You consistently bump up against relationships that drain you, and feel as if you are giving (and giving) without getting much back.
  • You find it hard to express what you want or be heard in relationships.
  • You turn to food or other addictive patterns to soothe yourself when relationships let you down.

It’s not about preying on pain but it is often about acknowledging it. It can also be about acknowledging frustration, inconvenience, or unmet desire. Any way you slice it, identifying your customer’s current situation is a great way for them to feel seen and understood.

2) Discover your client’s core motivators & values.

Take a look at your Map again. What values or motivating factors are your customers hinting at? Maybe they want to be seen as more professional. Maybe they want to feel beautiful. Maybe they want to feel free from outside expectations.

Drill down until you can identify what is driving them to find solutions.

You can use these motivating factors in your content strategy, in your branding, and in your messaging. Your product spread should emphasize these values and motivators.

An example of this in my own business is my emphasis on “impact.” My Most Valued Customers want to make a good living and build successful businesses, yes. But they also want to feel like they are positively impacting the world, their communities, their customers, and their families. Making an impact is their motivating factor. It’s why they wake up every morning and it’s why they’ve built their businesses.

Everything I do or create reflects that motivating factor, making it easier for prospects to align with whatever strategy, tactic, or idea I’m sharing that day.

3) Pinpoint the results they’re looking for.

The flip side of describing your customers’ current circumstances is pinpointing the future they’re aiming for. In other words, you need to know the results they’re looking for.

Catch that? The important results are the ones your customers are looking for, not the results you think your product or service provides. Don’t get me wrong, I know those are awesome results but if they’re not lined up with what your customers are looking for then your customers won’t feel drawn to buying your product.

Often, knowing and communicating the results customers are looking for is difficult for my clients. Again, we break out The Perspective Map. This time, instead of looking for the “now,” we look for the “then.” We pull out the pieces of information that tell us what customers are trying to accomplish, what they really value, and what they just want to be easier.

Brigitte Lyons, PR & media strategist, does a great job of this when describing her services. She could list “learn how to perfect your pitch” or “identify your key media message” as results since those are indeed results of her service. But instead, she goes for the big results her clients are looking for–that she also provides through her service:

  • Clients and customers clamoring for your work.
  • Event organizers paying you to speak to large groups.
  • Journalists and bloggers and TV producers emailing you for quotes, photos and features.

If we’re brainstorming product ideas, we use this information to create a list of results this product needs to accomplish for them. If we’re brainstorming for a sales page, we turn this information into a hypothesis and a bullet point list of outcomes. If we’re brainstorming for marketing & outreach, we turn a specific result into an optin incentive, an ad, or a video idea.

Your turn.

Whenever I’m feeling stuck about or trying to evaluate a business idea, I pull out The Perspective Map. That means I’m constantly coming back to you, my customer, and co-creating with you at every step of my business’s marketing, sales, or product evolution. So the next you think, “How’d she know I needed that?” You’ll know.

Why Don’t More People Buy What I’m Selling?

You’ve got a great product. So why don’t more people buy it? Many of my clients come calling because they’ve had the scare of a launch that didn’t preform to their expectations. It’s not because their plans were bad. Nor was it that the product design was subpar. It might not even be that the messaging or positioning was off.

Often, it’s because the wham-bam-thank-ya-ma’am style launch that everyone from that super successful life coach to the latest iPhone wonder app developers make look highly effective is actually the wrong choice for most new products or programs. There are lots of people out there who would buy your product–if only they heard about it the right way at the right time.

And what you don’t know is…

That blitzkrieg-style launch is actually the final iteration of careful planning, testing, and incremental sales cycles.

Why not everyone buys what you launch right away


Why is this important?

Sure, planning and testing is always a good idea. But really, the reason the initial stages of introducing a new product, program, or service to the public is that there are 3 kinds of good customers and you need to sell to each differently. And that means the majority of your potential customers won’t buy the first time you launch something or because of the same messaging you’d use to get that first round of customers.

To get more people to buy what you’re selling, you’ve got to adapt your marketing and sales approach to each segment.

Moreover, you must sell to each in their own way in the right order.

Stages of Customer Development

Image from The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development


Early Adopters

Early adopters, by nature, want the dirt on the newest things to hit the market. They want to try it, experiment with it, offer suggestions, be a part of the process. “New” and “innovative” are value-adds in and of themselves. Early adopters will work to figure out what untapped benefits are buried within a new product.

These are the people who waited in line for the very first iPhone.

Early Majority

The Early Majority are interested in being ahead of the curve with new ideas but aren’t willing to suffer the kinks & quirks of an untested product. They rely on others to test drive a product but then happily buy what is new and trendy.

These are the people who waited in line for the 3rd generation iPhone.

Late Majority

The Late Majority wants what is standard. They don’t want to look like they’re lagging behind but have no interest in being ahead of the curve. They’re happy to buy a product, as long as it has reached a certain ubiquity in the conversation.

These are the people who waited to buy a high definition DVD player until BluRay beat out HD-DVD.

For more on this, check out the book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development.

What does this have to do with your launch?

If you create a shock & awe launch without first selling to your Early Adopters, those Early Adopters won’t buy because they’ll shy away from something that is aimed at the Majority of the market. The Early Majority will be nervous that there isn’t a proven track record for the product. And the Late Majority? Well, you can only imagine how nervous they’d be.

The key to a truly successful launch (over time) is to sell to the natural buying habits of each segment of your market.

Introduce the Early Adopters to a beta version of your product. Offer a limited number of first edition products, seats in a new program, or spots on your service calendar. Let them know why they’re getting the first word (you value their opinion, you’re looking for testers, you want to reward them for their loyalty, etc…) and invite them to buy.

Once those Early Adopters have had their way with your new idea, you can open sales to your Early Majority. They’ll want to see testimonials from Early Adopters and hear about the actual results that group got. They also want to hear a bit about the process you used to create the product and why you’re bringing it to market now.

Finally, the Late Majority will be ready to buy. They don’t want to know about your process or your inspiration; they just want what everyone else is buying. They’ll happily listen to the Early Majority recommend your product. Demonstrate that your product is “standard” and reach out to new markets.

How do I take advantage of these market segments?

Taking advantage of each market segment is a matter of, you guessed it, segmentation. You need to be able to segment your audience by their buying habits so that you can present your offer in different ways as you go.

You might be able to hand pick a group of Early Adopters to sell to via social media or your email marketing service. Just remember that your Early Adopters are probably brand evangelists but not every brand evangelist is an Early Adopter. Many brand evangelists are not customers at all but simply people who buy into your vision and want to see your business or ideas succeed. Early Adopters are the ones who actually buy.

So when you’re picking that initial group, concentrate on people who have purchased something from you recently. Look to your last launch and target those who bought in the first wave. You can also identify Early Adopters in your industry or niche and invite them to try your product or service. Remember to focus the value here around what’s “new” or “innovative” about your product and why those features benefit your Early Adopters specifically. You’ll want to make sure all your messaging is focused on “invitation” instead of sales pitches, too.

Your Early Majority is found in the heart of your list. These are the people who already know, like, and trust your business; they just don’t place as high a value on buying right away. Focus the next stage of launching a new product on your internal network. Use the themes you’ve been discussing in email marketing, social media, and/or your blog to springboard this part of your launch. Affiliate marketing and most media relations aren’t very effective here so don’t spend a lot of time with this. Make a splash but keep it inside the pool, so to speak.

Your Late Majority is found outside your internal network. Here is where joint venture & affiliate marketing, as well as media relations, really work. This is when an explosive launch strategy can create big returns. With everyone talking about your “new” (ahem) thing, the Late Majority will realize your product has become standard (safe) and ready for them to give it a go.

Is there an example I can check out?

Marie Forleo‘s Rich, Happy, and Hot B-School is a great example of this in action. When that program was officially “launched,” the ideas in it were not brand new. The program incorporated elements that had been being taught to Marie & Laura Roeder’s inner circle (read: Early Adopters) for years. The Early Majority (the core of Marie & Laura’s audiences) took the program the first two years based on the fact that those Early Adopters were trusted, high profile members of the online business community.

The last two launches of the program focused heavily on affiliate marketing and brought in a whole new audience to the brand. That affiliate marketing also turned off a whole slew of Early Adopter and Early Majority community members because, while on the surface it was annoying to see the same marketing message everywhere, below the surface these segments didn’t like that the program had become “standard” and ubiquitous.

The launch of the iPhone is also similar. The first and second generation iPhones were produced in limited quantities, largely marketed to early tech adopters, and sold only through one provider. Early adopters are willing to jump through those kind of hopes to get the hot, new thing. Later generations, were marketed more openly and produced in much larger quantities. Finally the last two generations saw not only larger quantities produced but many more sales channels added to the mix. For a large segment of the smartphone market, the iPhone is standard.

What to do next

The summer is the time when many businesses are putting the final touches on new products or programs to launch in the Fall. If you’re wanting to make a big splash later in the year, this might be the perfect time to get your Early Adopters involved. Don’t keep the lid on your big project, devise a way to sell an early prototype of your product, program, or service to Early Adopters and invite them to start working with your ideas pronto.

Use their feedback to make the jump to your Early Majority in the Fall. Plan a launch that relies on internal communication and word of mouth referrals among your own community. Then, consider relaunching in the Winter, casting a wider net to catch your Late Majority.

If you’re in a different part of the sales cycle, adjust accordingly.

— PS —

If you’re looking for more strategies for launching, check out this Forbes article that featured some of my best advice on the topic. I offer ideas on why a launch didn’t go as well as it could have and what to do differently next time.