The Danger of Going “Too Broad”

I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to communicate my services, when I found myself fumbling recently over the question of my specialty. When you’re talking to people who work in different fields, an elevator pitch that offers a fairly general description of the work you do is usually good enough. But, in a room full of people who do similar work, it becomes important to know how to identify and articulate just where your strengths fit in.

The lesson reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in college. I was trying to pick out a subject to focus a paper about Absalom, Absalom on and as I kept listing off topics, she kept saying “too broad.” After a fair amount of listing, I finally came up with a focused enough subject for her approval. I ended up writing over 15 pages on one particularly notable scene in the book. She was right, anything more broad would have made for a behemoth of a paper.

I started off freelancing thinking I had to be good at a long list of specialties to make it work, and spent the first few months learning what my professor had taught me years earlier: the importance of having a focus.

You can either be mediocre at a lot of things, or really good at a few.

Having a specialty or niche has a number of benefits:

  • It gives you the room you need to become an expert at something. No one person has the time to be an expert at a long list of skills and subjects, but any one of us can get a lot closer to that title a lot faster by honing in on a particular specialty.
  • It makes it easier to find your target audience. Whether you’re a freelancer or a business, looking for customers and clients from a massive audience is more challenging than being able to focus on a target group. A writer with experience working with oil and gas clients knows who to target, and can make a more persuasive pitch for why she’s the right pick than one casting a wide berth for any client at all.
  • You can become a part of a community. In any field, who you know is important. There’s a wide world of people out there and if you can focus your efforts on making connections with people in a few select industries, you can get more out of the relationships you have.

If you can pinpoint a focus that best fits your skills, you can approach your marketing with much greater efficiency and get more out of the time you spend on the work you do.

Modern Branding

As SEO, social media and other online tools increasingly dominate the marketing landscape, branding has come to take on a new meaning. Modern branding involves new opportunities for positioning your business as part of a larger community and contributing something beyond your products and services.

The first goal of branding is creating awareness of your business. The second is ensuring that the associations people have with that brand name are positive. Making sure customer satisfaction is a top priority is crucial to this, but aligning your business to a larger community or cause both ensures the development of a positive business profile and allows you the opportunity to provide something more than just the items you sell.

Whole Foods has developed a YouTube channel that encourages and informs consumers about sustainable farming and healthy, conscious cooking. Recognizing the shared values of many Whole Foods customers, this initiative simultaneously helps build the Whole Foods brand and contribute something to the larger conversation about issues of concern to Whole Foods as a business and its customers as individuals.

Toms has found considerable success by combining a product people like with the promise that every purchase aids someone less fortunate. For a conscious consumer hesitant about spending money on a pair of shoes, the knowledge that their purchase improves the lifestyle of another gives extra incentive to go ahead with the decision to buy and leaves a lasting sense of doing something good.

On a more local level, small businesses can find opportunities to help community non-profits by sponsoring events or offering a percentage of donations for a given sales period. They can also use a company blog or social media channels to increase people’s knowledge of issues related to the industry and the community. Successful modern branding means looking beyond getting sales and making money to finding a way to bring something unique and valuable to the communities your business is a part of.