Moving Markets - Push or Pull?

Leoni Janssen
The power of the carrot over the stick: why understanding your audience is crucial in moving markets (or horses)

One time, around 12 years back, I mentored two start-up founders who were struggling with ‘working the market’. They were so focused on their product's benefits and how it would rule the market that they missed the fundamental understanding of where ‘world domination’ begins: people who get it. 

To help them understand this better, I took them outside, quite literally and gave them each a horse resembling ‘the market’. They had never touched a horse, which was great as they had clearly never touched ‘a market’ before either. 

It was now their job to move 'the market' as they would move the horse making it take four steps backwards. 

They started pushing the horse, and nothing happened. The horse weighs around 400 to 500 kilograms, and as they pushed they got push-back from a force much bigger than them and they would feel it in their hands, arms and legs. This was an impossible feat. For the non-equestrians here, horses like to move forward, not backward.

An hour passed, and they still had no idea how to move the horse. They laughed at themselves uncomfortably and kept trying to push the horse, making no progress.

After some coaching, they started experimenting with things more counter-intuitive to them. They realized that they had to work with the psychology of the horse (the market) to make it move, not just by telling it to do something it had no appetite for. 

They at some point understood that pushing created a counter push they could never win, and also that it was not about ‘winning’ but making it interesting. Instead, after quite some time, they convinced the horse to move by persuading it with a piece of grass - absolute no-brainer of course, but it wasn’t until they changed their thinking. 

We all have to study our market and work with its fundamental principles to achieve our business goals. 

Changing the way we approach marketing and branding quests is what I do; that is where we find new ways to get from A to B. 

Not one situation is the same, no exec team needs the same. Experimentation, surprise and iteration can take all forms - out in the field, or on a Miro-board. 

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