Forget managing by committee. How about doing marketing by giving everyone in your company a voice in the process? And making sure you cover every possible segment of the public? And while you're at it, make sure you also dumb everything down?

That's a sure way to reach an audience of none. In his new book called This Is Marketing, the popular author and speaker Seth Godin explains his overarching themes and, in many ways, lays everything out on the table. He's a prolific writer, but this particular book is like a treatise on everything the master has been telling us since his first book debuted in 2004.

"Marketing is almost always a group effort--everyone in the organization has something to say about the logo or the product or customer service," he explained to me recently. "No one is busy telling the accountant to consider an alternative to double entry. As a result, we often end up doing marketing in general instead of marketing in specific."

"Worse, we worry about disappointing, missing, offending or otherwise leaving behind someone who might become our customer. So we become mediocre instead," he says.

I know what this is like from a first-hand experience. For years, I worked in a marketing group or in information design and had bosses who wanted to make sure we were broad and all encompassing. We didn't want to alienate anyone. But, we were totally wrong.

First, we "marketed by committee" because we wanted to be thorough and it's our job to conduct market research.

The problem is that customers don't really care if we are thorough, they care if the product we are marketing meets their needs. Goodin told me he thinks people often do that "thorough" job of trying to reach every demographic because they are paid to do that. They don't realize it's selfish to be so broad. Customers want something specific.

And, this is about more than marketing.

The actual product needs to be specific and targeted, meeting a narrowly defined need, not just the marketing effort. "Helping your customer understand why your offering is actually better is your only job," he says. "If your story or utility or interaction isn't actually better (for someone) for a substantial reason, please stay home until it is."

Once you know you have narrowly defined your marketing, he says the other possibility is that you might be trying to sell to people who don't think they need your help.

That's the job of marketing today. In my role mentoring college students who need to understand how to do marketing, there's often a misunderstanding about "going broad" to catch every possible customer. It's like spreading too much butter over toast--you barely even know it's butter anymore. It has lost substance, and that's exactly why marketing can be mediocre. Because it appeals to every person it appeals to no one at all.

The challenge here is to avoid the trap so common when companies try to market to everyone, which is to use all of your budget and resources and time to go as wide and deep as possible, without really understanding first who would ever buy your product.

I brought up the example of Dove soap. I mentioned how it might seem like it is easier to market the general soap to a wide audience, but in reality it is easier to market the dry skin version--it helps you to become more narrow in your target market.

Godin said it's partly about marketing to people who think they want to buy dry skin soap. The truth is, it's always easier to market a product like the Chevy Bolt (an all-electric) than a Chevy Cruze (a small sedan). It's easier to find a narrow market.

The question to ask is--have you taken the bait on general purpose marketing? Are you appealing to the masses and therefore no one? You have to imagine what it's like to be a customer looking for a specific product, then appeal to that customer.

Otherwise, it's too easy to go deep, wide...and become totally obscure.

Published on: Dec 10, 2018
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