Contributed Column

Marketing 101

Christine Miller

‘Everybody’ is not a target

I always flinch a little if I’m in a meeting and hear that “everyone” is the target or customer of a product or service. Everyone? Really? The mind-set behind this belief is that anybody may need the product, so why eliminate potential customers? This theory has business owners believing that segmenting the market can result in lost revenue, and isn’t it better to have some money in the coffers than none at all?

Once upon a time in America, big businesses were able to market to mass audiences. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that era ended along with three-martini lunches. Mass marketing techniques that worked in the 20th century are not the way to do it in the 21st century. Marketing today favors uniqueness. The truth is that you will accept business from anyone, but you shouldn’t try to sell to everyone. McDonald’s, with an advertising budget that exceeds $2 billion, does not mass market. It targets children, youths, and young urban families. So if McDonald’s, with a $2 billion budget, segments its sales outreach, shouldn’t you?

Back to the question of filling the coffers. What about ROI (return on investment)? People invest in marketing and sales to make a higher return. If you have to invest a significant amount of time, money, and energy to acquire a low-level client, is it a good investment? If you have a positive return on investment but it could have been a higher return, you’ve still wasted money.

Unfortunately most of those low-level clients equate to high investment, low return when it comes to sales. If you are selling a ground pork patty, (shaped to vaguely resemble a mini rack of ribs), covered in barbecue sauce and onions and pickles on a roll, for $3, should you market it to someone who is looking for a five-star dining experience?

Seth Godin, entrepreneur and marketer, speaks of otaku in his TED Talk, “How to Get Ideas to Spread.” Otaku is a Japanese term for people who are obsessed with a product. Otaku who are obsessed with your product will buy and help spread the word. McDonald’s knows this. Its McRib sandwich has such a strong following, there are websites that log McRib “sightings.” (I’m not kidding. Google it and you can see if the McRib is available near you!) These customers are so passionate about their McRib that they are willing to drive, sometimes hundreds of miles, to buy the product. These people are obsessed for sure.

There’s a great quote by Brian Chesky of the lodging rental website Airbnb: “It’s better to build something that 100 people love than 1 million kind of like.” Great advice. Focus your time and energy on cultivating those otaku for your product or service. Not only will they produce the most revenue for your company, they will be your best salespeople. They will offer endorsements and referrals, as well as share positive stories to their colleagues and on their social networks. They will also provide you with valuable, honest feedback about problems and improvements, thus paving the way for an improved product and greater sales.

Identify who those otaku are — who want what you are selling — and then sell, sell, sell! You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. You need customers, we all do. However, sometimes the secret to success is knowing what not to do, and who not to target. As hard as it is to accept, not everyone is your customer. •

Christine Miller is president of Miller Consulting LLC, which helps small businesses identify, qualify, develop, and close targeted sales leads, and helps organizations find more value in existing relationships. She can be reached at

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