The Power of Focus in Marketing

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. 

I speak from experience.

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. 

Powerful 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.
Focusing in on the target 
Staying Focused: 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. 

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. 

TESTING 1, 2, 3
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 other distractions.

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. 

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