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Marketing is hard. Except when it’s not

Johnny Molson


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Focus your message.

Al Ries, David Ogilvy, Harry Beckwith, Roy Williams, Leo Burnett, Chris & Chip Heath, Chuck Mefford… pick your favorite marketer from any decade, and they have likely insisted that you “focus your message.” How hard can that be?

For the feisty business owner, it’s Sophie’s Choice. “Don’t make me choose!” she implores. “Can’t we just put just one more thing in there? Maybe just a mention?” (Apologies to William Styron …and Meryl Streep)

It’s not hard. Except when it is.

“To focus” inherently means to “sacrifice” something else. When a photographer focuses on a cow, he cannot also focus on the trees. A woman in labor is encouraged find a focus point, so she isn’t also focused on the pain, the baby, and the fact that a room full of strangers are all looking up her gown. Focus your money on a good investment, and you get big returns. Focus on your diet, and you lose weight. Focus works.

Maybe instead of “focus” I should be saying “willful sacrifice.” This doesn’t mean you stop offering something. It just means you choose what to market and sacrifice the rest.

I call it the “Red Lobster Phenomenon.” Yes, I can order chicken linguine, potato bacon soup, and a Caesar salad at Red Lobster. But a place called “Red Lobster” would be foolish to market that stuff. It’s for the “…seafood lover in you,” after all.

FedEx only tells us about their overnight delivery. They also deliver 2 day, medical specimens, and international freight on a big ship. But, they shut up about it.

So, how should Sophie choose? She picks the thing she wants to be known for. She picks the thing she is particularly good at above all else. She picks the thing that makes her the most money. She picks the thing that is an obvious hole in the marketplace.

Once Sophie tries to “also focus on” something else, she loses her identity. She stops being unique. She blurs into the background never to be noticed by the customer.


Sacrifice is easy. Except when it’s not.

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