How to avoid hearing “You’re fired!” Stop thinking “I’m the target market”

Each year I get hooked on The Apprentice. The cringy catchphrases, Lord Sugar’s terrible jokes … Yet for some reason or another I tune in every year.

To say the show’s candidates treat research with mild disdain would be an understatement. We’ve seen budding entrepreneurs conceal the results of consumer testing from their teammates and revel in “100% positive feedback” as they do each and every year. But this series, there was something else that really riled me.

“I know there’s a market for this. I’m the target market”. We’ve heard this phrase time and time again as the candidates put their business plans to Lord Sugar. So what’s the big deal?

The belief that your target market is just like you can cripple your product development from the get-go. And it’s more common that you might think. It’s not just something we hear from entrepreneurs. We see it in large corporations too. So why is this such a problem?

It leads to products that won’t fly

The start of any successful innovation project should be begin with an exploration of consumer needs. Simply put, if there isn’t a need for it, your product is a non-starter. Yet too many innovation projects begin with a “great idea” based on an individual or a team’s own experiences and needs. This carries them all the way through product development. By the time anyone’s thought to validate the idea with consumers or check to see if the need is reflected in the market, it’s too late and the product is a flop when it reaches the shelves.

It limits your potential appeal

The belief that “I’m the target market” can create tunnel vision, causing businesses to miss out on entire sections of the market. Sure, people like you might make a great audience for your product. But is there another, more lucrative segment you should be going after too? Understanding the different segments that make up the market and tailoring your strategy accordingly will create cut-through and accelerate growth.

It results in branding and marketing that completely miss the mark

Finally, designing your branding and your marketing campaigns with only yourself in mind can result in disaster. Case in point, Apprentice finalist Camilla Ainsworth and her cow print packaging. The nut milk entrepreneur made the mistake of assuming that the target market for her product was just like her, that is people with dairy allergies. But by basing her packaging decisions on this group alone, she risked alienating a significant and growing market for her product – vegans.

It’s time to stop thinking “I’m the target market”

Next time you hear that little voice in your head saying “I’d love that product” pause for a minute and challenge your team to see what consumers really think. It just might stop you from getting fired …