Small Business

Growing Big by Thinking Narrow


Sometimes the smartest way to expand your brand is to target your marketing to hard-core customers

Do you want your brand to appeal to more people? Try targeting fewer of them. It may sound counterintuitive, but the narrower your target, the greater the potential intensity of your brand's appeal.

American Express (AXP) recently announced the introduction of two new credit cards designed to lure upscale customers: one for engaged couples and one for newlyweds. Appropriately enough, the cards are called "The Knot" and "The Nest."

Amex and other credit-card companies are at the forefront of an emerging trend: targeting increasingly narrow audiences in an effort to boost their brands' relevance. They now offer cards targeted specifically to university alumni, fans of Disneyland, Costco (COST) shoppers, and members of AARP. They even offer cards for home mortgages and health savings accounts. If there's an affinity group or a usage occasion, it's a fair bet that a credit card is targeted to it. Diner's Club may have invented the idea decades ago, but now everybody's doing it.

"DO THE DEW."

And the trend isn't limited to credit cards. Mountain Dew, originally named after a slang term for moonshine, was first positioned as a hillbilly soft drink. For years, it languished as an also-ran in a category filled with competitors. But in 1993, the "Do the Dew" campaign appeared with a focus on what the company calls "Dew Dudes" -- young, active men. Since that time, Mountain Dew has taken off to become the No. 4 soft drink -- behind Coke, Pepsi, and Diet Coke and ahead of Diet Pepsi, Sprite, and Dr Pepper.

How to explain Mountain Dew's success? Simple: It narrowed its target so it could increase the intensity of the brand's appeal. By focusing only on young, active men, Mountain Dew could create compelling messaging just for them. In 1995, this even went beyond commercials as Mountain Dew sponsored the first-ever X Games "extreme sports" event. This year, the company produced First Descent, a movie about the snowboarding revolution. Tactics like that would have been inconceivable had Mountain Dew continued to try to appeal to everybody.

When Bob Lutz was at Chrysler, he believed that it would be better to design cars that were at the top of the wish list of a quarter of the population than models that were somewhere down the list for everyone. On his watch, Chrysler developed the PT Cruiser, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the popular Dodge Ram pickup, and the head-turning Dodge Viper. His strategy reinvigorated Chrysler and helped turn the company's fortunes around.

FINDING THE FIT.

If it's true for credit cards, soft drinks, and automobiles, it can be true for your business as well. As long as you try to be all things to all people you'll end up being little to anyone. But if you narrow your focus to a key audience defined by demographics, lifestyle, attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, or anything else, you have the opportunity to create highly relevant, compelling messaging.

And the funny thing is, targeting such a narrow audience doesn't mean that other people won't purchase your brand. In fact, just the opposite may be true. I occasionally have a Mountain Dew myself, and I'm (unfortunately) beyond its target demographic.

Who are your best customers? How are they defined? Chances are a lot more people are out there like them. You just need to find out what it is about them that makes the fit so good. Once you do, and you play to it, other people like them will find you. And then you won't have to worry about pleasing everybody else.

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising, an ad agency specializing in working with fast-growth companies and businesses whose ad budgets are under $10 million.

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