In a fable attributed to Aesop, onlookers criticize a man and his son for walking alongside a perfectly ride-worthy donkey. But when either the man or his son rides, he is criticized for making the other walk. When both ride, there are cries of animal cruelty. At length, they resolve to carry the donkey. This incites more complaints and, worse, an accident ensues in which the animal falls to its death. The moral? Try to please all and you will please none.
Aesop could have been talking about brands.
Successful brands know who their customers are and seek to please them. Marketers for a candy bar position it for people who want a hearty, between-meals snack. An automaker woos luxury aficionados. A pair of skeptical stage magicians investigates paranormal claims in a TV show geared for the scientifically minded.
Most marketers have no trouble with the concept of focusing on a market. But many experience angst upon realizing that knowing who their customers are inevitably leads to knowing who they are not. And, that appealing to the “ares” usually comes at the expense of not appealing to the “are-nots.”
I sympathize about the angst, but focusing a brand’s appeal is more than an inescapable concession to the way things are: It is strategically sound.
Imagine attempting to make the candy bar appear acceptable to dieters, the luxury car affordable to the budget conscious or the TV show appeal to séance enthusiasts. The attempt would likely fall flat and, worse, weaken the product’s credibility with its established market.
If you’re loath to commit to not being all things to all people, you’re not alone. Brands you know have learned the hard way. When a software giant responded to a relatively miniscule, but cooler, hipper competitor by trying to appear cool and hip in its own right, the competitor’s customers weren’t impressed — and neither were its own customers, who didn’t care about coolness.
When a low-price department store introduced celebrity-endorsed clothing straight from the pages of fashion magazines, it swayed no new upscale shoppers — and its loyal customers feared abandonment.
If you want to attract new markets, there are better ways. One approach is to find new uses for your product. Perhaps your juice isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Maybe your baking soda can deodorize refrigerators and cat boxes. Or maybe your cooking spray can be used to keep grass clippings from sticking to the underside of a lawn mower.
Another approach is to introduce a new brand. You can probably name a certain automobile manufacturer with distinct high-, middle- and low-end brands, a clothing marketer with three differently branded retail chains, and a cola company with a separately branded caffeine-free lemon-lime soda. The identity of each parent company is no secret — in fact, the parentage lends credibility — but each brand remains distinct, so as to appeal to its core market without compromise.
It takes courage to put all of your branded eggs in one basket. But it’s wiser and less risky to focus on being just right for the few than to risk being not quite right for the many.
Take it from Aesop. You can’t please everyone. You can try, but you will likely end up losing your, um, donkey.