I HATE shoe shopping (bet you didn’t see THAT one coming). I detest it. If you want to torture me, you send me to a shoe store. Why? Because I wear a size 9 (European size 41/42 for those who were wondering). While it might be a semi-normal size in some countries, it’s BEYOND big in South Africa. We only have ONE formal clothing brand that stocks maybe 1 or 2 size 9’s per store and that’s it. If you don’t buy winter shoes in February for instance, you won’t get shoes – it’s as simple as that. The only other stores are online, so you hope and pray that the 9 they advertise will actual fit!

Yet I do like variety. In that sense I AM a proper chick, because obviously a girl needs the rightgirl shoes kind of shoes for a specific occasion! I have fancy shoes, comfort shoes, boots, slip slops, slippers, sneakers, sandals, ballet shoes, some heals but not too many as I am 1.8m tall…I think there’s more, but let’s leave it there. Don’t worry boys, my rant about shoes is about to become relevant to you as well.

The reason why I’m telling you this is because I want you to be honest with yourself and ask: “when I’m dealing with one of my clients and their target market, am I wearing my own shoes, or the people I’m trying to target?” It’s SO easy to get stuck in your own, comfy, walked-in, right size shoes, that you forget about those who don’t wear the same type or size than YOU. Maybe their cramming their feet into shoes that doesn’t fit just to hide their embarrassment of not having enough OR maybe they’re wearing fancy shoes a size too big just to have a taste of achievement they know they’ll never have OR their wearing the right fancy shoe just to show off the amount of money they have OR they’re wearing the sensible, mommy-shoes just to make sure she’s perceived to be a good mom.

If you are thinking “I need to check out people’s shoes” you’re totally missing my shoe analogy (just thought I’d mention that!). My point is, if you forget that everyone’s perspectives, motivations  and realities are vastly different to yours, you start to see the world in black and white, missing out on all the wonderful, rich, yet sometimes sad multicolour range of colours that exist in the world. So again, whose shoes are you wearing?

In South Africa we have a classification system called the Living Standard Measures, which Graphic-Emerging2basically divides the country into 10 classes based on what they own. It gives a lot of demographic insight into a market segment (the pic is an example of the type of info I’m talking about), but the riches that will provide the killer insight into your market’s life; way of thinking; way of doing and the obstacles that  are standing in the way of what you would like them to do, is not hidden away in that kind of data. Don’t get me wrong, it is invaluable info, as it points you in the right direction, BUT it will not give you the breakthrough answer you are looking for. For that, you need to at least get your shoes dirty, or even better, walk in your market’s too big, too small or just right shoes (yeah yeah, I know, I know. Very cliche, but hey cliches started for a reason).

Have you spent time with your market and saw them as real people with real lives or just as consumers? Have you spent time with them in their house? Live their lives even for as little as a day? Have you gone to a mall outside your comfort zone to see how other people behave or buy and ask them why? Some of my most enriching experiences came from getting my shoes full-on D-I-R-T-Y! Having a picnic with community women; spending a day with two sisters running errands and taking me to a traditional funeral, talking to women in their own township homes about their lives and of all things eggs! I went to a chisanyama, shabeen and a tavern trying to understand the inner workings a men (a difficult task I know!). I got taught by a mamma how to make pap (porridge) the traditional way and no, to my dismay, it did not include a microwave! Talking to spaza store owners, understanding how they buy stock and where they buy it. I can go on and on.

All of this DOING; cooking with them, laughing with them, crying with them, made me a better strategist because for the first time, I had REAL understanding and not juts textbook or demographic data understanding. I saw first hand that my life was worlds apart from the majority of the people I’m trying to target. And with that, I did more than just get my shoes dirty: I walked in their shoes. I started to understand WHY they did things, as appose to observing WHAT they did. I started to feel their hopes, dreams and fears instead of making it up based on my own stereotypical understanding of who they were suppose to be. I listened more than I spoke, with my head and my heart and for just a second, I got a glimpse of who they really were.

So my challenge to you is this: get your shoes dirty, but more than that, be brave. Stop sticking to the stereotypes of who people are suppose to be and rather venture into the unknown of walking in someone else’s shoes. For all you know, you might stumble upon a nugget of gold where you least expect it – at the bottom of THEIR shoe.

Note: all images courtesy of Google Images.