Can't please everyoneKAREN: What, you got a little thing for her?
GEORGE: No, No! She’s going out with a friend of mine. It’s only courteous that we should try and like each other.
KAREN: What difference does it make? Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everybody in the world have to like you?
GEORGE: Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!
(From Seinfeld, The Masseuse)

 George Costanza obsessively wanted everyone to like him. If you do the same in your marketing, you could wind up being as successful as he was – which is to say, not successful at all.

Marketing to everyone is only marginally more effective than marketing to no one. I got to thinking about this recently when I drove past this signage in a Chicago suburb:

all things to all people

Now, I’m sure this restaurant serves up great smoothies, Chinese, and sushi, but do you really trust a smoothie stand for state-of-the-art sushi? Does the combination even sound appetizing?

If you’re like me, then the answers to those two questions are no and no. Trying to appeal to every type of customer undermines trust and turns people off.  In The Masseuse, George learns this the hard way when his obsession to be liked causes his girlfriend, whom he likes, to dump him.  And perhaps needless to say, he doesn’t get the other woman to like him, either.

Indeed, trying to appeal to too many market segments creates obstacles, not opportunities.  We had a client a few years back in the landscaping business. They were adamant about marketing exclusively to high-end residential customers, which was their specialty. I noticed that many of their competitors marketed aggressively to big and small, residential and commercial, customers, but our client consistently outsold them.

The reason for our client’s success was fairly easy to figure out. Would a wealthy homeowner looking for an intricate waterscape on a 10-acre property entrust the project to a landscaper who advertised deep discounts on commercial fencing?  For that matter, would a commercial enterprise favor a landscaper that specialized in waterscapes, or instead just assume that company would be too expensive?

Successful companies know who their customers are – and aren’t. They market relentlessly to their base, and consider business from other segments to be gravy.  Historically, Apple has done an excellent job of this, appealing to folks with a creative bent and high appreciation for design and innovation. One of the biggest fears among the company’s ultra-loyal base is that Apple will lose its flair and turn into (ugh) Microsoft.

Besides building tremendous customer loyalty, narrow market focus also is easy on the pocketbook.

  • It’s cheaper – a lot cheaper – to market to one segment than to two or five or 50. Small firms with limited budgets must be especially careful not to overreach.
  • Ramping up the sales effort is likewise less expensive, since it’s easier and faster to train a sales force to cultivate one market rather than several.
  • Economies of scale kick in: It’s far more efficient to repeat the sales and fulfillment process rather than reinvent the wheel every time you get a new customer.

Resisting the temptation to be all things to all people takes tremendous willpower. Most entrepreneurial businesses are sales driven, and therefore loath to say no to any opportunity. Nevertheless, while skimming the surface of a broad market might get results in calm waters, will it be enough to survive when the economy gets choppy?

Over to You

Do you market to multiple market segments, or just a few?  Do you think your business would be improved by expanding into new segments, or contracting?