I’m a new entrepreneur and we’re about to launch our product in a few months. We’re planning our marketing roll-out, but don’t seem to be getting anywhere. We’re stuck fighting about segmentation and who to target the product at. Our product will benefit so many people, we should sell it to a broad market. But my marketing guy thinks that we should pick a few main segments and focus our efforts there. Coca-Cola does it—why can’t we?

Merv–Santa Clara

Hi Merv,

I can tell this is your first product launch—and you want make a big impact in the market. Visiting this site, it seems you want to be a scale-up before you’ve even got a successful startup… Don’t confuse the two!

Gradually broadening your market.

Your conflict with your marketing guy may be related to this confusion. I sense your frustration… does he not share your great vision? I’ll come right out with it: I agree with your marketing guy. In fact, I think he’s not radical enough: at this startup stage you should focus your resources not on a few segments _but on _one segment only.

I bet that your marketing rescources are minuscule compared to Coca-Cola’s. But more important: your marketing strategy has a different goal. You’re not a giant corporation like Coca-Cola, defending your turf from every attacker. You’re a startup looking to make a dent in someone else’s marketplace. And how are you most likely to make a dent? By hammering the same place over and over again—or by spreading your blows around?

Even Facebook, dominant in mass markets today, started out with a very narrow target market: Harvard College students. Only once they dominated there, did they gradually expand to Columbia, Stanford and Yale, then other colleges and schools, then the mass market. How much momentum do you think they would have had if they had scattered all their viral marketing to nobody in particular?

Tim Ferriss nailed it when he offered startups this advice:

  1. Own your category—you need to be number one—even if in very small pond. If you can’t dominate an existing category, find a subcategory that you can dominate. Or create a new one.
  2. Don’t try to make a product for “everyone” – Ferriss talks right to you here, Merv. You don’t want to “please” your customers, you want to impress. And that means making choices.
  3. Forget branding. Deliver great value to your chosen customers. And the brand will build itself.

Good luck!