May 2006 Insight Newsletter

Bringing It All Together

A reader requested more information about marketing, especially for small to mid-sized businesses. Since starting my own consulting business after many years with a large corporation, my views on marketing haven’t changed much at all.

What works or what limits marketing for any size business is very much the same. In short, you have to “bring it all together” with a very clear focus while still making the offer reasonably comprehensive if you hope to have customers recognize the value you add. It’s challenging and somewhat contradictory as you seek to find the right balance – too little or too much.

Information Can Be Overwhelming

You can’t “sell” a product easily these days. Consumers are way too sophisticated. They will “buy” what they believe in. They don’t even have to work hard at comparison shopping because a vast number of competing products provide a constant information flow about virtually any purchase a customer is considering. Think of buying anything and you’ll suddenly notice competing products everywhere.

Some people call ours an “attention economy.” They insist the most important commodity to get from customers is a few moments of attention among a multitude vendors pumping out information about every imaginable product and service. Andy Warhol’s famous comment that everyone would someday enjoy “their 15 minutes of fame” was made more than forty years ago. Even his follow up MTV show of that name aired briefly twenty years ago.

I recently noticed a used book from 1971 that commented, “the informational [sic] explosion is straining our capacity to cope.” That was before hundreds of TV channels and the Internet. Today a single TV news item may be composed of half a dozen shots of no more than 3 or 4 seconds each – far closer to 15 seconds than 15 minutes. How do we cope? Everyone just shouting louder for attention isn’t working any more.

The Focus Economy

I believe the better term today would be “The Focus Economy.” The chief struggle for both buyers and sellers is to get a clear focus. The most successful speakers, businesses and non-profit organizations in my experience are those that have a very clear, very focused offer.

If you put forward a half dozen or more wide-ranging types of products, a consumer is likely to by-pass you and buy from a specialist. And why not? A specialist is likely to have greater expertise in the one product they want. Even department stores today focus their range of merchandise. They put more emphasis on clothing, for instance, or home goods.

The broadly assorted shopping mall of smaller stores is being outdistanced by vast “destination stores” in “power centers.” That’s not to say the old approach completely dies. TV didn’t fully replace radio, which didn’t replace movies, which didn’t replace stage, but each successive technology cuts into the market share of previous ones and gives the public options they instantly add to their patterns of buying.

We still try to perceive a focus for a department store versus a power center stores or radio versus TV. Each has its niche that we turn to for specific needs. Though some technologies seem as if they would be fully replaced by better ones – records by audio tape, then by CD’s, expanding toward DVD’s to add video, iPods, TV cell phones, satellite radio and so forth – we continue to see older formats living alongside newer ones for some consumers beyond what you might expect. Niches can keep products alive that would otherwise die off.

Differentiation Stems From Diversity

The key to marketing today is understanding what the customer’s focus is likely to be. What exact purpose will be served by your product? Then you can in turn focus on being the best and perhaps the only one offering exactly that. “Differentiation” has become the by-word for marketing perhaps more than any other single concept.

Not surprisingly this reflects the growing diversity of people throughout our societies. As consumers have grown to expect choices, they’ve gotten used to sifting through many options before zeroing in on what will fit them exactly.

Unfortunately from as early as four or five years of age, “buyers” now begin to suffer “consumer anxiety,” wondering if they can keep up with the wonderful products their peers are getting all around them. This reflects a difficulty we share as individuals – trying to decide the focus for what we want. The danger of choosing one thing is that you may find another tomorrow (owned by a friend perhaps) that is far better.

The fact that we’re finally recognizing we’re all different – usually in more ways than we can see or imagine – doesn’t prevent us feeling we should have at least as good or better “stuff” than everyone else… or feel the humiliation of poor purchasing. The challenge is that while we want our “stuff” to suit us uniquely, we want it to be seen as desirable to others as well, to be recognized as top quality.

In a real sense this applies to pretty much every product and service. Offering public speaking presentations, for instance, I know the buyer wants to be sure that his or her whole audience will acknowledge the presentation purchased is among the best that could have been had, even though that audience is filled with diverse needs. So they look for someone who is funny, entertaining, emotionally fulfilling, inspirational and educational all in one easily listened to package that fits the exact amount of time they need to fill – from ten minutes to three or four hours. Can any one speaker do all that?

Solving The Puzzle

For us as marketers the idea of focus while meeting diverse needs poses a difficult puzzle. What core offer will we present to the public? I’m not specifically a stand-up comic or a professional entertainer (apart from fitting in humorous stories and a bit of juggling as illustrations) nor do I specialize in especially touching stories, though there are overtones. I certainly strive to inspire people to new action, but others have written in more educational depth and perhaps even more eloquently about each element of what I suggest.

What I strive for most is for people to take away and apply a clear and above all complete picture of the elements they need to succeed and how best to balance them. Most other presenters focus on one or two elements when there are actually five critical ones. Leave one out and you’ll flounder eventually. The one thing I emphasize most is not forgetting any one of the critical elements. This way you don’t need a special personality to succeed, you simply do these five things consistently.

I tailor this focus to the audience’s particular issues or problems, but the five elements stay the same. When talking about marketing, for instance, I target “bringing it all together” to the kind of elements needed for specific products, but use similar types of humor, emotion, entertainment that illustrate the core ideas in most of my presentations. Don’t hire me if you need a topical, political comic with the humor specifically tailored to today’s events. I talk about creating the environment for high performance tailored to your challenges and what helps or gets in the way of that. The blending of humor and entertainment is provided around that focus.

The goal is this: make it clear and easy for buyers to see what they’re purchasing – no hidden surprises – and to understand where your product fits in their market, who’s buying it for what purposes so they find themselves satisfied. Blend in enough of the added ingredients the public now expects in all situations to stay in the game (in a speaker’s presentation: humor, emotion, entertainment), but keep the focus on your primary offer so that they know where you fit among the vast array of choices and what the specific benefit is for the buyer – in my case five key elements for being more effective and successful.

Make sure the elements blend and balance, with no conflicts or flaws to trip up your customer… and you’ll find yourself with growing demand. Steady practice will make it flow!

Other Marketing Hints

Marketing advice can be a mixed bag at best. It’s best to narrow the focus to the type of marketing you want to do if you can: online versus viral versus direct mail, etc., if you’re interested in specifics. For general articles I like this site: http://www.proven-small-business-marketing-solutions.com/marketing-strategy-focus.html http://tinyurl.com/z928l and in particular might suggest starting with the article entitled: Marketing Strategy – Shift The Focus.

For Sales and Marketing for small businesses, this site is gaining interest in the Toronto area, but there will be many local ones you may be able to find via Google search for your area: HERE, but there will be many local ones you may be able to find via Google search for your area. Be careful though, many such sites are more interested in having you buy their service than anything else.