Marketing Matters Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

Focus is important for everyone, since we all have so much to accomplish and so many details to address at any given time. Focus helps us spend our time most efficiently and concentrate on areas where we can make the most impact, and not worry about those in which we can't.

Lack of focus can be frustrating and counterproductive. Take job hunting. Imagine if you conducted a job search the same way some companies market their products or services.

You would prepare a resume with a long list of accomplishments and credentials, mail it to numerous companies, to the attention of a variety of managers, including those responsible for human resources, data processing, marketing, accounting and the mail room. Without any follow-up, you would expect the phone to start ringing off the hook with plum job offers.

This doesn't work in job hunting, and it certainly doesn't work with marketing communications. In marketing, I see a tendency for many companies to feel the battle is simply a "numbers game" in which the more mailings you send, the more ads you run and the more articles you pitch and place, the better.

Some companies insist on communicating the whole spectrum of features and specifications, regardless of the specific needs of each audience. Rather, concentrate on the most important message: benefits to the customer. Develop a distinct strategy behind each target and message you select. Keep in mind that inadequate follow-up and fulfillment of inquiries will sink your ship faster than an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

Now comes the focus part of this column. Successful marketing communications programs all have a clear focus in two distinct areas: the audiences and the messages sent to those audiences. Here are a few tips in dealing with each:

The audience

1. Prioritize who you want to reach by balancing two themes: With which group(s) do I have the best chance of success, and which group(s) have the largest market need and potential for your product/service?

2. Are there cross-selling opportunities with existing customers? For example, does Customer A use you for one need, Customer B use you for another need, but each is unaware of the full range of needs you meet?

3. Depending on budget matters, you may want to consider decreasing the number of prospects you reach-and reach the select group more effectively, instead of spreading your efforts too thinly over a larger group.

The message

1. Research the needs of each audience. Many companies market on the basis of what they think is important, which can be completely different from what customers think is important. Why sell on the basis that your product lasts for 40 years or more if you find that people buying your product are interested in a life of only 15 years?

2. Forget about listing features. List benefits by answering "what's in it for me?" Don't shotgun the same benefits to every audience. One group may buy based on quality and life-cycle costing, while another may not care about long-term performance and buy on price alone.

3. Be sincere in your message. Don't make exaggerated claims that can't be supported. Avoid making prospects feel like they're being sold. For example, my company was recently recognized with an award, along with a number of other local companies. Shortly afterward, I received dozens of form letters congratulating (fill in the blank with company name here) on the award in Paragraph One. Then a distinct shift took place in Paragraph Two, with thinly veiled sales pitches that were obviously the same for us and every other company on the list of award recipients, even though I'm sure all of our needs differ greatly.

Again, focusing messages to your audiences' needs will make any marketing effort more successful.

My last message for 1998 is to express my sincere wishes for everyone to enjoy the holiday season and to be positioned for the most healthy, successful and all-around fruitful year possible in 1999.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to