Lesson 6: Narrowing Your Focus Equals Power
by Bob Baker
This may be the single most important piece of advice in this e-mail workshop: You can’t be all things to all people. Many ambitious people who brand themselves online make the mistake of trying to appeal to too broad a range of potential fans.
Don’t get caught in this trap. To create an indelible brand name for yourself, you must stand for something specific and not be a generalist in a wide-open field.
Let’s see how this principle works with some celebrities:
Rush Limbaugh is not just another lively radio talk show host; he’s a passionate character who preaches about conservative values and embraces the Republican Party. Does everyone agree with him? Absolutely not. Does he try to appeal to the widest possible audience? Not a chance. Whether or not you agree with his politics, he knows his niche and sticks with it.
Eric Clapton has etched his place in musical history by being closely associated with blues-based rock music. It’s reasonable to assume that a man of his talents could also flawlessly play reggae songs, Irish jigs, Appalachian folk tunes, and more. However, the songs he writes and the albums he releases are consistently focused on the blues. Couldn’t he sell more records if he played all styles of music? No, because fans embrace him for what he’s known for.
Wayne Gretzky is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He often endorses hockey-related products and events. Some may say, “But sports is sports, and Wayne should be a spokesman for athletic competition of all kinds.” Not so fast. Gretzky is most effective when he sticks to the specific niche he’s most associated with.
Attempting to be all things to all people may seem like it expands your potential market of fans, but it actually does just the opposite. The wider you cast your branding net, the more watered down your message becomes. Remember, the human brain works by recognizing patterns and making connections. The more specific your brand is (to a point), the better your chances of inspiring a connection.
You could try to position yourself as Pat Smith, the gourmet chef; but the generic category of gourmet chef is blurred by the existence of hundreds of cooking and food-related experts and Web sites. There’s no glue to make that identity stick in someone’s mind.
On the other hand, if you are Pat Smith, author of “How to Prepare Low-Carb Gourmet Meals for Under $5 Per Person,” you’ve moved closer to occupying a distinct position in your fans’ minds.
If given the choice between being a big dog in a small yard and a small dog in a big yard (my apologies to fish lovers for not using the traditional metaphor), smart online branders aim for being the big dog.
Another thing that happens when you narrow your brand focus is that the people who are attracted to you tend to be more loyal. For instance, the controversial Goth band Marilyn Manson only appeals to a small sliver of the general public; but people who do appreciate them are often cult-like in their devotion. The thin slice of the music fan pie that they command is more than enough to allow them to make a living playing their brand of music.
Contrary to typical corporate strategy, as an individual, you don’t have to win over a huge percentage of the population to be hugely successful. If you made your name and brand identity known to just one-tenth of one percent of the United States population, you’d have more than 280,000 admirers.
That’s enough to establish you as a bonafide celebrity; but you’ll only reach that level if you carefully choose your brand niche and own the category.
“Okay, Bob,” you say, “what if my brand niche — the one that I’m genuinely passionate about — is in a category that’s overpopulated with brand name people who have already established themselves?” The solution is to create a brand-new category.
Consider the area of exercise experts, which for years has been filled with high-profile names from Jack Lelane and Richard Simmons to Kathy Smith and Jane Fonda. How do you break into such an overcrowded category? You don’t.
Instead of fighting the mental perception battle on such a wide front, you create a new battleground altogether — one that you dominate exclusively.
Billy Blanks was just another martial arts practitioner until he became known for Tae-Bo. He didn’t produce a set of videos on aerobic exercise or weight training or stair stepping. He created a completely fresh category, and now he’s the Tae-Bo king.
What category can you create and turn into your kingdom?
In the next lesson, we talk about the importance of using a BIS. Do you have one?
This workshop is based on Bob’s book “Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online: How to Use the Internet to Become a Celebrity or Expert in Your Field” (Top Floor Publishing). Download two chapters free and find out more about the book at BrandingYourselfOnline.com