Cup of CoffeeMy favorite coffee shop is a place called Smokey Row Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. I love this place. I love the coffee, the food, the atmosphere, and I love to work there. I bring my laptop, drink cappuccino and have a great time. I can eat cheesecake and chicken pot pie while I earn a living.

And the other day I was thinking about this: what exactly about Smokey Row do I love so much? It’s not just the food or the coffee. It’s a certain experience and a certain emotional connection and emotional promise that Smokey Row makes to me (and fulfills).

And that promise is: Calm. Order. Productivity. Focus. Stimulation.

I can go to Smokey Row and work, I can get a lot of work done, I can get away from the happy chaos of my house and the isolation of my home office and feel connected to the wider world, while still able to hone in on the work that must be done. Smokey Row promises more than a cup of coffee and a place to sit; they are promising all of these primal elements – community, connectedness, security, comfort.

I think every small business can learn something from this idea of the customer’s “primal experience.” After all, most people don’t buy things because of rational, specific needs. Often we make our buying decisions based on emotional needs – subtle signals and connections that make us feel better. It’s not our “rational brain” that’s making the decision as often as the “lizard brain” that wants to feel safe and comforted and protected.

What is your business selling – deep down? What is the “primal experience” that makes customers want to buy from you? For example:

  • If your small business is a restaurant, no matter how good your food might be, your customers don’t keep coming back just for the food, they’re coming for a certain experience. Maybe they want to be taken care of, nurtured. Maybe they want a place to unwind and relax. Maybe they want an upbeat atmosphere that makes their night out on the town feel a little bigger. Maybe they want a sleek, elegant dining experience that introduces them to new flavors. Maybe they want to “be seen” and feel part of an exclusive community.
  • If you are a financial advisor, your customers aren’t just buying mutual funds or paying you for your time, they’re buying into the “primal experience” to meet their needs for “security” and expertise and trust. Perhaps they chose you as their financial adviser because they believed you could help them make more money than they could on their own – so perhaps they’re responding to the primal motivator of wanting to get ahead, wanting to do better than the competition.
  • If you sell insurance, your customers aren’t just buying insurance, they’re buying relief from worry – they’re buying into the idea that you are going to protect their families from life’s biggest risks and catastrophes.
  • If you sell consulting services, your customers are buying reassurance and support. They’re buying into the idea that “This person will solve my problem. This person will make everything all right.”

Not every business’s primal experience is the same. You need to give some thought to exactly what you offer to your customers on a “primal” level – talk to your customers about why they buy from you. What do they get out of doing business with you that they can’t get from a competitor? Listen closely to their answers.

Forging these deep emotional connections with customers is the most effective form of small business marketing. If you know why people buy from you, and you can “go deeper” into the fundamental reasons, you can design your customer experience (and your small business marketing efforts) to directly tap into that primal experience.