Four ways to win the attention game. And we're all in it.

By Lavinia Calvert | 24 January 2018

Shipping your first product is a major milestone for all start-ups. Some say that if you’re not embarrassed by it, you’ve launched too late. I don’t agree. There’s a big difference between delivering a credible first-generation product that may take a little longer to craft, and getting to market quickly with something that invites embarrassment. Why would you bother, and more importantly, why would you waste your customers’ time?

Regardless of what business we’re in, we’re all in a contest for attention—the attention of our customers, clients, and prospects. We basically get one chance to make the right first impression with those whose attention we seek. That alone can set the tone for the whole relationship. Why not make the best impression you can?

SNOS, or ‘shiny new object syndrome’, may well grant us the fleeting attention that comes with launching or doing something new. But unless we value and respect attention when it arrives with a standout product, service, or experience, we’re unlikely to keep it.

Here are four ways to build something worthy of your customers’ attention.

#1: Solve for well-defined customer segments

It seems obvious, right? But it’s amazing how easy it is to get this wrong.

We started out designing a judo uniform for judo players because that’s the segment we knew best. About 80% of our initial design and development efforts went into creating that first style. Granted, we were also developing the textile from which it would eventually be made, so it was a bit more complex than simply designing a couple of garments. The point is, we spent considerably more time on this segment, than the next three, and it showed. And not in a good way.

It’s better to focus your efforts on one or two well-defined customer segments and delight them than try and be more things to more people, and fail. A few users who love your product enough to recommend it are far more valuable to your business in the long haul than hoards of the partially-satisfied.

#2: Don’t be afraid to share your ugly or rudimentary prototype

Our early prototypes were low fidelity. Patterns were hand-drawn using builder’s paper, ruler and pencil, sewn up in cheap fabrics, and tried on for size. This enabled us to experiment with different cuts and construction methods without incurring great expense—and to quickly test ideas.

We switched things up when we had pre-production textile samples to work with, and tested everything from wearer comfort to washability. With each new prototype, we got closer and closer to a final product. But at times we laboured on things that weren’t that important, and this cost us time and money.

It doesn’t matter if your prototype is ugly or a bit dysfunctional. The key is to get it in front of potential end users as quickly as possible so you can validate, test, iterate, and resolve its final design as fast as practicable. Then ship.

#3: Edit ruthlessly and stick to your product design philosophy

Our design aesthetic is minimalist and functional, our promise built on performance. There is no pattern piece or material in any of our garments that isn’t there to enhance its performance in some way.

There were occasions we veered away from this approach, though. Like when we decided to experiment with a diamond-shaped stitching embellishment across the lower half of our jacket design to replicate a feature of traditional judo gi. It looked great, but added several minutes of sewing time, and therefore cost, to the production process with zero performance benefit. Not one of our best ideas.

Good design is often more about what you take out than put in. Be clear about the principles that underpin your design philosophy and why, and know when and where to edit.

#4: Understand what matters most to your target customers

When you’re starting out it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to address every suggestion you get to improve your product. You don’t. You do, however, need to discern what matters most to the customers that matter most (point #1).

Our first-gen uniform for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners received a couple of slightly negative reviews because the lapel of the jacket wasn’t thick enough. Early adopters gave similar feedback, which we addressed with a second-gen design. Unfortunately, we still haven’t got it quite right, and this has limited sales in one of the fastest growing segments of the category. We need to do way better for these customers if we want to keep them interested.

A solid C, or B for that matter, doesn’t cut it when you’re competing in a crowded category. Aim for straight As and don’t let your product development pipeline or design team’s attention get congested with random feature requests that haven’t been validated or vetted against clear criteria. Instead, work to quickly identify where you can move the needle with customers that matter the most.

Take-away

We live in a world that is swamped with choice. More choice than most of us need or want. So when customers pay us attention, it's a privilege we shouldn't take for granted.

As business owners and leaders, our challenge is not in getting a half decent product or service to market, being a first mover, or adding more bells and whistles to our offer so we can match or better our competitors.

Our challenge is to discern, with a high degree of precision and honesty, how best to earn and keep, the attention of those customers and clients we covet.

In my view, that boils down to knowing who and what matters most to your business and why, and doing what you do for them so well that they can’t help but notice.

Lavinia Calvert is the co-founder and director of Gimono and Fortitude Textiles.