If your company is experiencing rough seas in a highly competitive market, is it better to become a generalist and cast as wide a net as possible, or to be a specialist and learn how to reel in a particular fish, one at a time? The answer is…”well, it depends.”
Smelt fishing on Lake Michigan can be a lot of fun!
When the smelt are running in the spring, you can wade into the ever-frigid waters with friends and a fine-mesh net and pull in hundreds of these delectable little fish in a single evening. And if someone’s on the beach furiously cleaning fish while you haul in, there will be plenty of smelt dinners for everyone. Only thing is, the Lake Michigan spawning run peaks in mid-April, and that’s it until next year. Of course, many smelt fishermen cast an even wider net, so to speak, and pursue other fishing opportunities over a year—taking in rivers, bays, inlets, salt flats, or the oceans of the world. Each type of fishing endeavor requires its own licensing and stamps, special gear, knowledge and training. Not to mention a plane ticket or two.
Another option is to specialize in one sport—fly fishing—pursuing elusive trout in fresh water streams or striped bass (rockfish) in our own Chesapeake Bay.
Fly fishing is as much art as sport, requiring great casting skill—a choreography of moves defined by distance, prey, and the surrounding environment—as well as an in-depth knowledge of fly knots, all that gear fly fishermen love to wear, the various flies your fish love to bite, and a keen understanding of fish psychology. You learn to spot fish by thinking like one of their predators, such as a heron. And, over months and years, you come to know your quarry—even individual personalities like “Bubba,” the wizened old trout of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And you learn to trust your “fish intuition,” sensing when to pursue and when to back off, what they’ll bit and what they won’t, even when they’re playful or fearful…or just plain hungry.
A client of ours cast a wide net for many years, providing valuable services to a broad spectrum of clients in several major markets. They had worked hard to enhance their image and identity in these markets. Recently, they invited us to work with them to develop strategic marketing initiatives that would further develop their client base. They had a great project team assembled but after months of meetings and discussion, the brand was suffering and the project team was stuck in the same conversation. Problem was, they were unaware of how and why they got stuck.
Specialist versus Generalist
Working together, we undertook several strategic thinking and planning sessions. And what evolved was our recommendation that our client move from a general marketing approach to a more specific market we both felt they could and did serve very well. Indeed, our client already enjoyed excellent relationships with several firms in this specific market and regularly contributed articles to its trade journals.
Rather than continuing to cast an ever-wide net for many different kinds of fish, we were asking our client to consider re-tooling for a very specific area—fly casting. Thus, new strategic marketing initiatives required a re-positioning of our client’s marketing efforts (and dollars)—building on the company’s already established relationships.
We worked together to develop a verbal identity and visual identity this specific market could relate to and connect with emotionally. We began with some “givens” about the industry: that it is challenged with chaos in project management, with meeting ever increasing requirements, and with a shorter life span for their products. Additionally, we understood that competition is very fierce in this industry, where the difference between being first and second to market can cost a company millions of dollars in the first months after product launch.
Core Beliefs Matter
Any new marketing initiatives also incorporate core beliefs and values we determined were the germinal underpinnings of many companies in this industry. These core values emanate from the corporate leadership and culture.
There began a strategic and integrated advertising and PR campaign that surrounded and penetrated the market from all sides. As a result, our client is enjoying new business opportunities which offer substantial growth potential. Rather than casting a wide net for many different “fish,” they are acquiring the habits, grace, and skills of the expert fly fisherman—casting a perfect fly into a still pool or a creek,…focused on a ripple, a thin moving shadow, a brief sliver of light.