Dear CMO:

While drafting up what is currently looking like Chapter 8 in Killing Giants, I stumbled upon an interesting comparison of targeting that bears further discussion. Who we choose to talk to in our market is a pretty significant and strategic choice we make, as is how we choose to communicate. We often read from pundits great and small that focus is what makes us successful. So let’s try on three approaches, all of which make some semblance of sense.

“High and to the Right”:

We love “high and to the right.” What’s not to love about talking to the experts about things that only the experts know? It’s exclusive, and exclusivity sells — and not just to experts. We love glomming onto others’ conversations and sharing a bit of the spotlight, even if we don’t fully understand it. It gives us that shot of invidious comparison that lets us compare ourselves favorably to our other friends. If an ignoramus is someone who doesn’t know what you learned five minutes ago, “high and to the right” is your ticket to temporary genius.

I’m being a bit flip here – there’s great merit in focusing your attention on your experts, particularly if you are relying on them to be active participants in your WOM marketing. Experts tend to buy more than non-experts, tend to be more loyal, and tend to talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with aiming your communications strategy “high and to the right.” There are other ways of doing it, though.

“The Vulgate”:

How refreshing is it to aim at the largely ignored market of non-experts? “High and to the right” gets all the press, but “the vulgate” is where the vast majority of fairly uninterested people are, many of whom might be interested after all. Look at TomTom, the GPS company that arrived in America a scant five years ago from Europe (where it sits astride the EU market like a collossus, not for nothing). Where Garmin and Magellan talked tech to each other and traded speeds & feeds in the vertical trade press, TomTom walked up to the microphone and said, “anybody out there want to buy a navigation system for their car?” And people did — the vulgate raised their hands, while the experts shook their heads and argued over the finer points of real time updates.

“The Vulgate” works when no one is talking to the market. Being a champion of the ignored is a very valid strategy and is often overlooked in fairly high-ticket markets where the dollars are typically spent in the channel. Embrace the fact that there are non-experts out there, especially if no one is talking to them.

“The Tao of Un-Focus”:

The Tao is neither above or below us. Which can make it hard to find, if you’re actively seeking it (which would be the whole point, Grasshopper, if Lao Tzu was your marketing consultant). But if you are happy with letting hand-raisers find you — if you’re OK with self-selection — then The Tao is a prudent, practical, and purely authentic positioning strategy to take.

Tell them the facts. Give them features and benefits. Strip your lanuage down to its essential, Zen-like essence. Let people choose. I have a client aiming a solution at tax professionals who divides his market up into two major clusters: one who are aggressively building their practices and the other who is no longer taking new clients but would be open to being a referral. You can’t find these guys up front. There’s no list of “tax professionals who are looking to build their practices” out there. But you can put your message where all will see it and let them decide. Credible, prudent, and pragmatic.

None of the above are better than any other. Each has merit, depending on your circumstance, product, culture, and competitive environment. Acknowledge that you have more than one option at your disposal!