Marketing, Start-ups

Niche Yourself: On Brands, Barnes and Noble and Finding your Gravy

Do one thing every day that scares you, they say.

Yesterday, I chose to have vegetarian chilli at the bar, and yet… I’m not a vegetarian. Scary right?

I used to wonder why it’s just the one thing that scares you, not 10?  But now I know it’s because 10 things would be ridiculous.

Not ridiculous for the scary factor (‘cos we all know the saying just means stepping an inch outside your comfort zone, vegetarian chilli as case in point). Ridiculous in the do-able stakes.

One thing is achievable. Do it thoroughly, like you mean it, dedicate your time to it, and mediocrity won’t come knocking at your door.

Doing one thing, really really well, yields great results.

It’s certainly the case when it comes to my line of work. Too often, marketing and communications is expected to cover too many bases. And far too often, those things aren’t scary at all…  ‘Let’s join in that conversation’, ‘lets get involved in that tweetchat’, ‘let’s promote this new feature too…’

Sure you can, sure you do, but I bet if you took a step back, there’s one thing you could do really, really well. Better than everyone else in fact. One thing that if you focused in on it would be far more valuable, make a bigger impact, and make your marketing spend and strategy more purposeful.

Pick that thing. And do it.

When it comes to positioning a company, whether you’re a restaurant needing a re-brand or or a tech start-up growing in a fiercely competitive environment, you need to find your why; you need to ask yourself honestly “What do we want to be famous for?”

Here’s where I talk about gravy.

A 20 year old restaurant in a UK seaside town had its regulars, but was unable to attract new customers and was struggling to compete with the influx of new eateries into the area.

The issue? Not that they didn’t serve great food that could compete, but that they tried to sell “all the things” to “all the people”. When they asked what made their Sunday Roast special, the regulars answered emphatically, “The gravy”.

So they went with it.  They led their sales, marketing and brand strategy with their gravy. 

Everything else was still as good as ever, but people came for the gravy, and only then did they get to experience the rest. Recognizing that you can’t be all things to all people, and that you shouldn’t want to be, is important. 

Take Barnes and Noble. This week it posted its quarterly results to a bit of a whimper. The net loss was more than predicted, and the stock fell 10%. The strategy response? Leadership announced they “will place a greater emphasis on books.”

That’s right, Barnes and Noble is going to focus on selling books.

It’s what customers expect and it’s what they’re good at. It’s not Amazon. It’s not the best fidget spinner or stuffed-animal retailer. It’s a bookstore. And the recognition of this may well be the turn around it needs.

Know yourself, niche yourself, and do one thing; one ambitious thing (that’s kinda the scary bit taken care of) really bloody well.

Barnes and Noble may have just found their gravy. And while the suggestion to take pause and “find your gravy” is not always an easy conversation to have when faced with the need for rapid customer land grab, it’s always worth having.

That’s my philosophy, and in my professional life at least, I’m sticking to it.  I’ll let you know how it goes, for now vegetarian chilli will do.

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