Marketing is not a dirty word

Lemony Snicket quote that offers an ah-ha moment relative to small business marketing

Honestly, I get why people are suspect when they hear the word, or the job descriptor, marketing. It’s sad that such prejudices are rampant, but, as is often the case in life, one bad experience colors bias in ways that masks judgemental reactions.

Recently, I attended Toastmasters leadership training workshop. The trainer for the Vice President of Public Relations role defensively stated PR isn’t marketing. Sure it is. Everything promotion oriented comes under the umbrella of marketing including research, strategic planning, sales, and yes, public relations. That’s not a bad thing when done right.

What’s unfortunate is, many equate marketing with the 70s used car sales man persona. That’s inaccurate. Masterful marketing is subtle – and rewarding for both buyer and seller.

Marketing, done right makes everyone smile. It’s not about manipulation, aggressive selling or dishonest behavior. It’s about understanding. Knowing what your customer wants but can’t find elsewhere then providing it in remarkable ways is the foundation of good marketing. A product or service exchange should be a happy experience for all parties in the transaction.

Marketing is the big picture thinking. It’s about seeing communications through the customers eye’s – and supplying what they want most with alacrity. It’s about being real, caring and often, humble. It requires keen listening skills. It’s personal, measurable and creative.

If you’re marketing to everyone, you’re reaching no one

Lately, I’ve been attending a good number of networking meetings. I’ve moved to an area I know nothing about so it’s a necessary activity in my quest to get a lay of the land while building relationships with other area business owners. Often, half the attendees claim “everyone is my market” when they introduce themselves. That’s a mistake.

General marketing messages don’t allow prospects to identify with you or envision your product or service as being made especially for them. Sure, you’ll sell some, but you’ll generate a lot more revenue by designing your message to appeal to a specific audience.

This doesn’t mean you can’t sell to people who are not in your defined marketing niche. What it does mean is your strategy and message should be designed for an audience that will most appreciate what you can bring to their lives.

Niche marketing for success

For twenty years, five hours each morning were dedicated to what I dubbed my paid health club – a Thoroughbred racetrack. My morning smiles came from vigorous exercise training and conditioning these horses as an exercise rider.

Injuries and age caught up with me in the form of increased issue recovery time. It was affecting my performance – and income. I became irritated enough to seek a new solution.

Ultimately, I found a message therapist who’s specialty was professional athletes. He was able to keep me in the saddle with weekly sessions. His fees were easily justified because I earned it back immediately with quicker recovery times that involved decreased pain and increased agility during heal times.

Was I a professional athlete? Technically yes – I was being paid for my physical prowess. Many would argue this status (I wasn’t competing). Did this provider limit himself to those making a living from sports activities? Of course not, but while he enjoyed a full schedule of clients, his competitors were struggling to make a living.

This wasn’t a matter of merely claiming it was so (although sometimes it can be as simple as that). He understood anatomy, identified root issues by recognizing how muscles were connected, kept up-to-date with his education and had the strength and precision to go deep for immediate results. Part of his service included discussing strategies to maintain better physical health between visits. This specialist status allowed him to command higher fees and to keep his practice at capacity from word-of-mouth alone.

I tried other providers prior. Their approach was a feel-good moment (there’s a market for this too – I just wasn’t part of it), rather than a solutions approach to injury issues.

Marketing is about understanding

Smart customer building strategies involve an empathetic mindset. If your mind doesn’t see how what you’re doing is going to help people, your business prospects are poor.

There’s a saying about trying to please all the people all the time (you can’t). Being a generalist is akin to this rhyme. Better to strive to please some of the people all of the time. To do so requires narrowing your prospect focus and crafting a marketing message that appeals to the needs of a select audience.

Today, the hype is on size. Bigger lists are better. More Facebook likes are finer. Stronger social share is smarter. Wider Website reach makes you richer.

I disagree. For small businesses, the typical numbers game is unwise. We don’t have the time or the budgets to go wild with mass appeal that has a tiny percentage return.

Consider instead, finding a message and niche that’s focused and smaller to bring bigger income results. By having a specific audience you’re speaking to, you can craft messages and create products or services designed just for them.

Admittedly, I’ve been wooed by the larger audience, my product’s for most mindset too, and failed each time I lost sight of the beauty niche beachheads provide. It seems counter-intuitive, but striving to reach a smaller audience nets bigger returns.

Have you shifted tact from generalist to specialist or vice versa? Please share in the comments below discoveries about what works and what doesn’t. If you’re stymied with how to identify your ideal market, shoot me an e-mail at NLevin at and I’ll try to help you find the fix.


10 responses to “Marketing is not a dirty word”

  1. From a former media buyer – you are 100% correct. I remember having clients who said their demo is 18+ – that is not targeting. AND – advertising is just part of the overall marketing. PR is part of the equation and admittedly, the part of marketing I know the least about (as far as doing it myself that is). As an artist – it is hard to narrow your target – I have a different target for each series. But – I understand the importance of correct marketing

    • It’s great to hear a (former) media buyer’s perspective that echoes the need for smart niche strategies for success, Vickie. Some are more skilled (and interested)in the short-term sales side rather than ensuring the client sees long-term results. Curious that your calling was artist. You must an unusual sort (I can relate) that’s equally left and right brained. So glad you made the decision to pursue your creative passion. Your artwork is lovely.

  2. In many ways I think the internet has added to the bad vibes around marketing – so many people are “teaching” the one-size-fits-all approach, and of course one-size-never-fits everyone. I love beautiful examples of niched marketing – where you truly get a sense of what’s being offered that exquisitely meets your needs/desires. There’s such a beautiful interactive dance in that giving/receiving and it’s evidence that marketing really can be win-win.

    • Your dance term, Deborah, is priceless. I agree. Great transactions are almost magical in how they feel so right for both. Bad vibes around marketing have existed for as long as I’ve been in the industry (since the 80s), but agree, the internet has created a new level of audacity. I laugh when I see “campaigns” touting million dollar returns (for this limited time special price) from people claiming they’re filthy rich after implementing such strategies. The high pressure sales tactics employed don’t jive with the independently wealthy claims. Agreed – smart niche marketing strategies fascinate – and entice – me. It’s wonderful when the goal is a win-win.

  3. This post resonates with me because this is exactly how I have learned to niche myself. For example, even though my website and my public presentations are focused on Family Estrangement or family conflict, I have a wide variety of types of client issues I am service to. Once people understand about the results, they spread the word. It’s phenomenal really.

  4. It’s less “marketing” and more “sales” that makes me twitch. (And due to issues involving sports in school, “teamwork”.)

    • Yes, interpretation and implementation affects how we perceive a lot of things, Scott. Sorry to hear the term sales makes you twitch. It’s mostly listening. Of course, a lot of people make it more painful than it ought to be.

  5. I’m starting a business next year and the target niche I thought had “too many” targets–until I found the commonality that united them all.