Make the Ultimate Marketing Sacrifice
by Chad Rueffert

“It’s the ultimate marketing sacrifice.”  That’s what world-renown marketing consultants Jack Trout and Al Ries have to say about FOCUS.  Over and over, in every book they’ve written, they repeat a mantra that too many people ignore:  “Good things happen when you contract, rather than expand your brand or business.” 

Anyone who has the word “marketing” anywhere in their title or job description should own every book ever written by either of these two men.  You should also require yourself to re-read them every 3 months or so, and give copies to every senior-level person in your organization.  You’ll find they’ve put into words every good instinct you’ve ever had about marketing, and have a viable explanation for every failure you’ve ever made.

But back to FOCUS.  If the goal of every company is to grow (which it invariably is), then why do Trout and Ries suggest that good things happen when you contract your business?  If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be “CONFUSION.”

Let’s consider some examples provided by Al Ries and Laura Ries in their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.”  American Express used to be a premier credit card with the slogan “Membership Has Its Privileges.”  It was exclusive, prestigious, the card for people with money.  It provided status and respectability.  Membership really did have its privileges.  In 1988, American Express had a handful of card choices and 27 percent of the market.  Then they lost their focus.  They wanted to grow, and their CEO decided the best way to do that was to introduce twelve to fifteen new cards each year.  We started seeing the Optima Card, the Optima Golf Card, the Optima Rewards Card, the card for students, a card for seniors, cards with airline miles. 

American Express lost its focus.  They were no longer the card for the wealthy status seeker.  They tried to become the card for everyone.  In doing so, they created confusion in the mind of the consumer.  American Express no longer stands for anything identifiable.

Today, American Express has less than 18% of the market.  They introduced a bunch of new cards, lost their focus, created confusion and it cost them 1/3 of their market share.

A company that is focused allows the consumer to easily identify with that company and product.  Take Kraft Foods for example.  What are they known for?  Does any one product come to mind?  No.  Because they make just about everything.  They are a marketing generalist and the companies that are more narrowly focused are beating them at almost everything.  Kraft has about 9% of the market in jellies and jams.  Smucker’s has 35%.  Kraft has 18% of the mayonnaise market.  Hellmann’s has 42%.  When you try to make your brand mean everything to everyone, you end up meaning nothing to anyone. 

So, how do you get a marketing focus?  It takes sacrifice.  You have to stop trying to be everything to everyone.  You have to find a category you can dominate.  Federal Express built its success not by providing every type of shipping service available.  They focused on overnight packages only.  They had to sacrifice a big part of the potential shipping market to do that, but it paid off by making their brand name synonymous with overnight delivery.  Domino’s Pizza, Little Caesar’s and Papa John’s all started out selling a wide variety of fast foods, from fish and chips to fried mushrooms.  Customers found the selection way too confusing.  By sacrificing the potential non-pizza business, each company became more successful. 

You’ve got to be the best at one thing.  Or, more correctly, be perceived as the best in the minds of your customers.  If you only make pizza, you must be an expert at it.  If you make pizza and subs and salads and tacos, you won’t be seen as the best at anything. 

Your customers must see your name and immediately associate one word or phrase with it.  Volvo means safety.  Xerox means copiers.  Intel means microprocessors.  You must narrow your focus down to one, identifiable thing and then own it. 

If you are just starting your business, sacrifice some of the sales potential available in trying to sell everything in order to build an identifiable brand name in one thing. Then stick to it.  If your business already exists, look at what weak portion of it you might sacrifice in order to narrow your focus and own that portion of the market. These are the things that remove the confusion in the customer’s mind, that allow them to hear the name of your company and know exactly what it means.  When you’ve done that, you have built a brand name that, properly maintained, will lead to long-term success.