|The power of marketing focus|
I am good at staying focused on priorities. It isn't that I
am not open to new information or ideas, but I am aware that I don’t ever have
the time or resources to do everything.
Thirty years ago when my wife and I had our wholesale bakery
business, we made one product: brownies. For fourteen years, we didn’t diversify into wholesaling
muffins, breads or cookies. Just brownies. For a short period we dabbled and did stray into other items but quickly realized we should stick to our chocolate strength and be #1 in something instead of #8 in everything. We knew that the focus on one
product made us the expert. And, by virtue of our hyper focus, we developed a recipe for success. Our brand stood for one thing- kick ass brownies.
During my entrepreneur days, I usually had about $30 to
spend on marketing and not enough help to get things done. In some of my past consumer
packaged goods positions, I got to work with $30,000,000 budgets and a team of
12 marketing professionals. Even with all that support, I still didn’t have
enough people, money or time to do all that was asked.
|F O C U S |
Focus is the key to
my success. I quickly started to learn that the problem wasn't too few resources,
it was too many needs. Whether it is managing brands or managing my time and resources, the best lesson I ever learned was the extraordinary importance of the F word. FOCUS.
What was required in my marketing roles was to put as much of our team's energy
against the few most important efforts that could affect a change in the
market. And I was always on the forefront of resisting dumb ideas like line
extensions, brand creep and other activities that caused us to weaken and dilute our brand. Brand creep is the idea that your name can be spread like mayonnaise on ever product and category. In consumer marketing, this is a real problem.
Marketing is Math
It is the nature of marketing and brand building to divide
not to multiply to get stronger. The best book on this subject is by Al Ries from the 1990's- it is called FOCUS and worth reading. I have read it about eleven times.
brands that stand for something lose their meaning when they get spread over
too many categories. Xerox brand was powerful representing copiers. Than they
spread that name on computers and weakened their brand. Airlines notoriously tried to be all things
to all people and stood for nothing whereas the focused airline, Southwest stood
for only one thing and followed through on their message of value. No assigned
seating, no first class, no food, simple pricing structure and they had a clear plan just to concentrate
their efforts on business travel not leisure destinations. They used the same planes on all routes which cut back on stocking spare parts, training and allowed them to better manage complexity and cost. And Southwest is one of a few profitable business due in large part to a clear and well-defined brand.
When you think coffee store you think Starbucks, yet how
many places served coffee pre-1975? But no one specialized in it and became the
expert. Being an expert requires the power of saying no to lots of distractions
so that your brand can mean something important. Volvo owned the word safety when it came to cars. It stood for something. And then they got this stupid idea they should make sports cars and compete with BMW and Audi. How can a car be both a family car that protects your kids and a high performance machine to drive on the autobahn? Answer: It can't be both things at the same time. Now if Volvo thinks that it needs a performance car in this category, than go create a product and brand that stands for that in the mind of consumers instead of diluting the Volvo brand. Toyota and Lexus are the best example of doing this correctly where each brand represents a different offering in the good/better and best approach to branding.
Marketers have to prioritize and bring focus to our work. Being a trained photographer,
the word focus has meaning that parallels my business world experience. A lens
that slowly racks into focus helps you clearly see your target and to capture
it. The blurry images that pass by are not mission critical and need to be
ignored. You can’t just sit back and watch what develops. Snap into it.
|Focusing in on the target |
Brands can’t have one foot in two camps at the same time. If
your industry has three key players all with unique benefits to their
customers, you will find one of the three who suddenly decides that instead of
focusing deeper, they give up and ‘sleep with the enemy’. They dip a toe in the water of their competitor's space and start hurting their brands meaning. Stay
focused on your strengths and find ways to innovate within their subcategory
so that you can reinforce your expertise and don’t water it down. Be an expert and not a generalist. Think of medical situation. If you have to get open heart surgery, I bet you aren't going to ask your general practitioner to operate on you. You want someone who has done this procedure over and over again and who is clearly an expert.
It is the same thing with a product or service. Don't you want to buy shoes from someone whose brands represents expertise in the arts and craft of shoe making? Do you get a haircut from your gardener? Do you ask your plumber to help you wire your light switch? Do you ask your insurance agent to help you with a legal matter? And depending on the nature of the legal matter, there are all types of experts with sub niches to serve you best. You must stand for something and be seen as having deep expertise even if it is in a narrow niche. The expert always wins and your brand must be #1 in something.
All of this adds up to three things I like to remind myself
of when I feel others are trying to redirect my efforts. It helps me check in as I ask these 3 simple
questions to make sure I am honing in on the real opportunities to be
successful with my work.
|Spending resources with focus|
First, am I spending at least 85% of my time and money on
the top three priorities? These priorities could be target markets,
marketing projects or corporate initiatives. Less than 85% means I probably
will be failing on at least one of them because it is difficult to concentrate
on more than three big things at one time. Steven Covey refers to this as
concentrating on moving the 3 big rocks in front of you- not the 25 little
pebbles. He also reminds you that if you were landing a plane, you would
probably want to focus on the three most important things going on- not all the
|Wiggle Room |
Second, do I have 15% of my time and money to experiment?
Every budget or time management class will teach you that you need a little
room to play. Maybe you want to experiment with a new tactic or test the waters
with a different market to reach. 15% of your marketing funds or other
resources give you a chance to try a few small experiments. More than that and
it becomes a distraction. Less, and you feel boxed in a little too much. 15 give me wiggle room.
|What part of no don't you understand? |
Third and perhaps most importantly am I saying no often
enough to distraction, dilution and off-strategy requests? You have to say
no to the onslaught of focus killing ideas that come your way. Why don’t we do
more here, why can’t we spend more there? Let’s spread ourselves a little
thinner until we don’t have enough to do anything effectively? No is the most
powerful weapon in a marketers arsenal because it reinforces what you stand
for. If your brand has secondary meaning in the marketplace, saying no allows
you to stay focused.
As I plan my work each day, I look at my list of tasks and
spend as much time as I can trying to move the needle of my top three
projects. If I have time, I move on late in the afternoon to what’s next on the
list. And in a professional way, I say no often when my focus is diverted.
|Focusing your efforts like a laser|
Remember as a kid taking a magnifying glass outside and by
harnessing the sun, you could burn a hole in a leaf? Marketing is no different.
Focus is the most powerful brand building light you can shine.
Labels: Al Ries, book reviews, Focus, Marketing Moments, Power of Focus, Rachel's Brownies, Steven Covey