You’re a Geek. Your Consumers Aren’t.

Most CPG innovators and founders are geeks of some sort. It doesn’t matter if the geekiness was professional or amateurish or a committee of both. The point is that you isolated a problem, a gap in your category, and you filled it. Or…you simply are pushing us to new modern heights of possibility only folks like yourself care enough initially to imagine. The latter is especially true in culinary innovations the general public really has to taste to understand.

Here’s the problem with your innovative bent. Your consumers will never really receive your innovation from the same geeky perspective. Well, the consumers who will enable you to scale won’t see it that way.

In the early years, when selling below $1M in trailing sales, especially when selling in specialty channels, DTC, or on Amazon, you may find most of your consumers are geeks like you. This only lulls you into confusion.

I’m not suggesting you should ignore them. Definitely not, since they are potentially useful for spreading word-of-mouth. However, you need to focus more on the less geeky fans you’re creating, even if they are harder to find. They can clue you in much better about the scalable outcomes to which your brand connects and to more mainstream meanings attached to your brand’s key attributes.

One thing that shocked me about the kale enthusiast innovators ten years ago was how deaf they were to most consumers’ overwhelming sensory rejection of the vegetable in snack food form. They only listened to their fellow nutrition, vegan geeks. These continue to be consumers willing to trade off culturally mainstream sensory expectations for nutrient density and vegan badge status.

It didn’t work out well for Brad’s Raw long-term, even though he did get the business to eight figures with expensive, wooden endcap shelving racks. The business operates in a tiny niche of consumers willing to make that trade-off for ANY outcome.

Another less discussed reason you, as the geeky founder, need to be very careful how you position your brand is that many premium wellness-oriented offerings focus too narrowly on obscure outcomes, often pseudo-medical outcomes. Anti-inflammatory foods and beverages are a great example in the past decade. These just sound incredibly weird to 99% of sentient humans. Making them sound less weird might be possible, but, wow, it would be much easier, if you had a more relatable outcome than inflammation and one with far less competition from incredibly effective pharmaceutical therapies.

If you want to understand more about how to learn from your fans early so you can avoid these kinds of problems, please check out my course, Scrappy Consumer Research for Founders. I will address the sensory issue and how not to fool yourself.

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]