Branding: Stop Trying to Be All Things to All People

The most successful businesses in the world aren’t necessarily the largest or “the best” ones. They’re the ones that a large enough segment of the public associates with a specific idea. That idea is related to their product, service, or area of competence. They way they accomplish that is by concentrating on one thing.

It’s All about Standing Out

No matter the size or scope of your business, you likely have competitors. Find a way to stand out in a sea of competition, and you have a better chance of growing your business, enjoying success and perhaps even leading your industry.

So, to accomplish this, do you think it would be better to offer your customers a greater range of products or services or to narrow down what you offer? Though it will probably seem counterintuitive to many, the latter is the approach that works.

In their book, 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al and Laura Reis wrote “Good things happen when you narrow the focus” and gave numerous illustrations of how great success stories were created by business owners who narrowed their offering. One example is Toys ‘R Us. The world’s leading toy retailer started life as a single store called Children’s Supermart, which sold children’s furniture and toys. You would think that to expand such a business, you would add to it: bicycles, baby items, kid’s clothing. But owner Charles Lazarus did just the opposite: He dumped the furniture and filled the empty space with more toys. They became Toys ‘R Us and that was all they did for decades.

The Power of Simplicity

In a world where we are bombarded with hundreds of marketing messages daily, the faster and more effectively you can get your point across, the better: Simplicity. Using the above example, how much more simple can you get than a giant store that specializes in toys? That’s much simpler to grasp and remember than “a store that specializes in toys, children’s furniture and clothes, etc.”

Another example courtesy of Reis and Reis: Two of the nation’s most successful pizza chains both started out with much more varied menus: Papa John’s (pizza, cheesesteaks, sub sandwiches, salads, onion rings and fried zucchini) and Little Caesar’s (pizza, friend shrimp, fish ‘n chips and roasted chicken for the latter) didn’t really hit the big time until they narrowed down their offerings. It’s in their respective message messages: “Better ingredients. Better Pizza.” and “Pizza, pizza.”

Does your business have an offering and message that is as focused?

Go Narrow to Get Fat

The trend in business for a long time was to become “full-service” in an effort to reach a larger audience. So, it might seem like narrowing down your offer would also narrow down your income but the opposite is true: When your target public can associate you or your company with a specific idea, it strengthens your identity in their minds. People come to know you as “the _____ guy” or “the _____ company” and eventually, the traffic for that product or service will come your way. That’s real power. Contrast this with a company whose offering is all over the map. The target public can’t get a firm idea of what they do. The broadness causes a mental dispersal. It’s the opposite of power.

Specialists vs. Generalists

Given the opportunity, most people would choose a specialist over a generalist:

  • When your sink is backed up, you call a plumber, not a handyman.
  • When you have transmission troubles, you take it to Aamco, not a general auto repair shop.
  • When you want awesome barbecue, you go to a barbecue joint, not a coffee shop.

The benefit of being a specialist is that you can command a higher fee. Specialists have specialized knowledge that their target audience can’t easily acquire on their own. That’s what makes a specialist worth a higher price—one that people generally expect to pay and are often glad to.

Further, if it’s not already clear, narrowing down your offering can eventually put you in a position of authority—an expert and/or a valued consultant, truly trusted by your public.

(Remember though that this is only possible if you’ve chosen a niche that you’re truly competent [or gifted] in.)

How to Start Narrowing

You’ve probably heard the saying (paraphrased here) that it’s much better to do one thing well than to do many things poorly. Narrowing is the process of identifying the one thing—one product or product line; one service or group of services; etc.—you do well and then communicating that to your target audience.

If you have a website, company brochure, or other collateral that tells your company’s story or gives a mission statement, start there. Does your statement accurately communicate your niche—your key area of competence, skill, authority or experience? Focus on the area in which you or your company are expert and strengthen that. That will be the niche you fill. It will be that product or service that you become associated with: “Oh, they’re the _______ people” or “She’s the _______ expert.”

It’s possible that you already have a fairly narrow offer but your marketing doesn’t communicate it effectively enough. In that case, you would want to review your website and other materials and tweak your message (or completely revamp it, if necessary) to more effectively communicate your niche.

Final Thought

This action is something you can do no matter what business you’re in, no matter if you’ve been around a while or are just getting started. In fact, this might be even more crucial for new businesses than for existing ones. Why? Because even if their offerings are overly broad, existing businesses, if they’re still around, are doing something right. But a new business needs every advantage just to get off the ground. So, establishing a narrow niche at the start gives new businesses a much better chance of surviving and staying in business.

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