Lions, zebras and marketing

The more I contemplate niched marketing, the more clear it becomes that this is the only way forward for small business.

In fact my first experience of this (though I did not recognise it as such) was many years ago through a builder friend of mine. Based in a wealthy Surrey town the friend worked alone as a general builder – he did OK, but complained that he was constantly quoting blind and missing out on jobs, plus he had to do a lot of jobs that didn’t suit his skills.

Apparently on a whim, he decided one day to become a specialist in Victorian property renovation  We all thought he was mad – why miss out on all those wonderful ’70s avocado bathroom suites and huge aluminium windows that needed replacing?

He was right of course. Literally overnight he eliminated 70% of his competition. within a year he had stopped marketing because order book was full – without discounting his rates. If only I had recognised at the time the cunningness of that plan!

In my role as mentor & trainer I am constantly faced with starters who – quite understandably – see their market as ‘everyone’ and their range of services as limitless. It is very comforting to think of the universal market opening before you.

The best way I have discovered to explain why this is wrong is to use the analogy of the zebra & the Lion.

Zebras, you will probably appreciate, are covered in black stripes (or is it white stripes?). One reason given for this striping is that is confuses their natural predator – the lion.

What the lion sees is a feast a huge blob of moving stripes; what he fails to do is identify the meal – the single zebra that will actually feed his family.  The rest will wait for another day.

Often a weaker zebra will fall from the pack & the lion will get his meal – but often they will not and he will go hungry.

If you randomly market everyone, you too will pick up a few stragglers and you might well keep yourself fed – but you will never be certain of results and you will never be able to milk the formula of waiting for one to fall off.

It takes a lot of courage to turn away from the perceived feast and focus on what looks like a small meal but like the lion – unless you want to spend your career chasing a load of stripes – you really need to select your zebra and keep focused on it.