How many times do we look at something new and regard it with skepticism, disdain, or some other negative reaction? Everyone can think of at least one time when we saw something new, a new approach to dieting or nutrition, a revolutionary business strategy, or even a television show or film that we simply didn’t get and thought was stupid – and yet, they turn out to be wildly successful!
Even though we might not be the target audience, we can often learn a lot from something we initially turn up our noses at. We can then apply those insights to our own work, and improve our results drastically, not by suddenly falling in love with what we hate, but by understanding the underlying structure of what makes it appealing to its target audience.
A Little Experiment
To really see this theory in action, I invite you to play along with me for a little experiment. Go ahead and pick 3 extremely popular things that you find yourself criticizing. Don’t be shy. I know you all have some choice opinions about a product, service, media offering, or pop culture phenomenon that you just don’t get. Pick anything that brings you out in a rash, or even fills you with righteous anger or confusion.
If you’re having trouble coming up with three things, write down a list of possibilities. Try to keep it to things you can simply, easily, and cheaply (or freely) partake in. Yes, I said partake. You can probably tell what’s coming next, can’t you?
Don’t fret – this is all for an excellent cause: helping you appeal to better clients, sell more with your designs, or whatever else you’re struggling with.
Okay, here comes the "fun" part. I want you to become a user of these 3 things you picked. Watch the terrible TV show. Read the crappy book. Try the silly fad diet.
If you really don’t want to invest money in the endeavor (and who could blame you?), borrow what you need from a friend or just interview some people who are diehard fans.
Don’t judge or criticize at this stage. In fact, don’t even ask any questions. Put aside your preconceptions and allow yourself to simply absorb the experience. Yes, it will probably be unpleasant, but try to put that aside for a moment.
2. Evaluate Objectively
If you can’t enjoy it, at least try to see it with a neutral eye. Another thing to do is to start reading other people’s assessments of it. Blogs, news articles, interviews, opinion pieces – all of these can help cultivate a store of knowledge about the thing you’re studying.
Be like a sponge for the time being, open up your mind and allow the essence of the event to wash over you.
Now comes the part where you begin picking apart what you’ve just witnessed and asking questions. Not just "why on earth did I just do that?" but actual, pointed information gathering that will help you better understand the appeal of this thing.
First, start with the basics. What did you notice about it? What stands out to you as significant? Any particular colors, camera angles, music, sound effects, compositions, or written copy that struck you as eye-catching or compelling? Why was that? What patterns are you seeing?
4. Ask Questions
Next, start asking yourself what kind of value you can gain from the data you’ve gathered. Is there some tactic or approach used by the producers of this product that you can adapt or use in your own marketing efforts? What, specifically, do other people see in it?
Don’t ask these types of questions cynically, but with real, open curiosity. Again, be open to learning something new and holding your judgment until the very end.
Still Hate It? That’s Okay
You don’t have to find some newfound appreciation for the product through this experiment. That’s not the point. The idea isn’t to start loving things you didn’t love before, the idea is to stop irrationally hating them.
If you find that you still can’t stand it after repeated and intense scrutiny, that’s okay. But it does you no good as a marketer, a freelancer, or a designer to simply decide that you hate certain things that are successful without at least examining them to understand why people love them.
Through this exercise, you may uncover a powerful tactic or strategy that you can apply to your own work, that will get you the increased traffic or clients you need to grow your career.