Why Less is Often More – The Power of Focus

September 23rd, 2009   •   2 comments   

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Should we strive to be all things to all men in marketing?

Or would it be better to focus on a few products and zoom in on specific areas of strengths?

From what I have read lately, being narrow-minded may be preferred to being broad-minded. Well at least when you are pitting yourself against Goliath.

Brand Halos

To understand this issue better, let us first look at the phenomenon of creating brand halos, a term coined by Al Ries.

Also known as the father of the positioning strategy in marketing together with Jack Trout, Ries explained how the discipline of psychology can be applied to marketing.

“…If psychology is the systematic study of human behavior, then marketing is the systematic study of human behavior in the marketplace.” – Al Ries

According to Ries, companies should not only focus their marketing message on a single word or concept, but to focus their marketing dollars on a single product or service. Just like Apple.

Apple’s Branding Strategy

By concentrating their resources, talents and energies on creating singularly spectacular products and highlighting them to the world, companies like Apple achieved major breakthroughs with hits like its iPod MP3 players.

Apple blew the iPod up with its huge advertising blitzkrieg, even though it only accounted for 39% of Apple’s gross sales. This resulted in a huge dominance of the marketplace where Apple’s share of of the digital music market is a whopping 73.9%.

In fact, “the iPod brand is so dominant that almost nobody knows which brand is in second place. (For the record, it’s iRiver with a minuscule 4.8 percent share.)”


Courtesy of Branding Strategy Insider

So what’s the moral of the Apple story?

Well, the positive spillover effects of a brand halo can lift consumer perceptions of all the other product brands in your company’s stable.

Instead of diluting your marketing and advertising spend over a whole basket of brands – dogs, cash cows, stars or question marks – you could focus on promoting and publicising the number one and two product that you want to emblazon on people’s hearts and minds.

Achieving such market dominance will make it easier for you to bring on a second or third brand in future, just like how Apple did it later with the equally phenomenal iPhone.

Chai Wallah’s Product Strategy

In a related fashion, Seth Godin shared that it may be better to focus on one thing and do it well rather than try to juggle too many different products.

He cited the well-loved example of the chai wallah, a ubiquitous provider of the much loved spiced tea which fueled India’s workforce for countless decades. By focusing on being good at one thing, chai wallahs have thrived over the years despite the onslaught of foreign competition.


The singular product focused world of Chai Wallahs (courtesy of Chai Pilgrimage)

Don’t Fish Against The Whales

Our final blog post came from Michel Fortin, who proposed that focusing on niche markets may be better than competing on price.

Fortin sensibly advised that trying to compete against the behemoths like Walmart, Target and eBay is like “fishing in a larger body of water where there are more fish, the fish are more spread out, and there are more competitors going after the same fish you are.”

Going against the big guys is also an exercise in futility, as the “sheer size of such big box Goliaths gives them a sizeable competitive advantage — particularly purchasing power, both in terms of products sold and advertising dollars.


Nobody does price or selection better than Walmart (Courtesy of galaygobi)

(If you think those three are formidable, you ain’t met Amazon or Alibaba yet…)

Solution: Niche Brands, Products or Markets

What should you do then? Especially if you’re running a start-up or a small business.

The key is to focus on the value that is perceived by your customer and seek to be as unique and differentiated in your offerings as much as possible.

In Al Ries own words, “The more unique you are, the less competition you will have. The less competition you have, the less substitutable you are. And the less substitutable you are, the less impor­tant price becomes.”

By exploiting niches – which may not just be niche markets per se but “holes” in current mainstream markets that are not filled – your company is able to offer compelling products that can meet a latent need, want or desire.

In the three examples seen here, it is clear that focus is the key – be it in brand advertising and marketing (Apple), product selection (Chai wallahs), or market selection.

Small businesses in particular should heed this advice. Try as you may, your lack of resources make it difficult for you to sustainably employ a price or selection based strategy.

It may thus augur small businesses well to focus your resources on just one or two things, do them truly well, and channel your energies in communicating those areas, just as Al Ries, Seth Godin and Michel Fortin have advised.

What are your thoughts on this?

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2 comments

  1. Lam Chun See
    posted on Sep 24, 2009 at 6:09 AM

    Thank you for the very sound advice. But of course good marketing has to be matched by a good product; otherwise the customer will soon leave you for another ‘partner’.

    Recently I had an extremely unpleasant encounter with my colour laser printer. Part of my problem was my strong faith in this brand which was developed because of my very happy experience in an earlier product. Now I have a total distrust of this brand.

    I should blog about it becos it is a good case study; but prefer to spend my precious blogging hours to indulge in nostalgia 🙁

  2. Solomon
    posted on Sep 24, 2009 at 1:47 PM

    Walter, A very insightful article with examples, indeed!
    Being everything for everyone would be a sound pollution. I didn’t want to work for everyeone, but a select clients who values great branding!
    Thank You!

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