Yes, you read that correctly. If your content is well-developed and well-executed, it should drive some people away. Intentionally. By design. On purpose.

This is not me being hyperbolic for the sake of getting clicks. As much as that sounds counterintuitive, I genuinely mean it, and if you think this way, you can actually make your marketing content much more impactful.

Bullseyes Are Small

The business world regularly talks about the importance of having target audiences and target prospects for your work and your marketing. The idea is to define who is the best fit for a message or product so that you can tailor the experience accordingly. This reasoning is sound, but too often the thinking is only applied in half-measures.

When you aim down-range at a target, you are not only deliberate about the point you want to hit but you are also intentionally missing every other potential target in the field. Taking prospects off the table—so to speak—may be an uncomfortable notion, but here’s why it’s a good idea:

  • Nobody’s favorite food is plain rice. If you want to play on a person’s tastes and personality, you have to inject flavor, and that means accepting the fact that some people simply won’t like it. If you open a Chinese food restaurant, serving really good Chinese food is more important than having a menu option for every other possible taste and preference.
  • Average marketing does not stand out. The idea that “everyone” can be your customer is a pleasant thought, but in marketing, it likely means that your campaigns will drift toward the mediocre. Bold marketing is inherently controversial. You might not be courting political controversy, but when you develop a campaign around the Burger King mascot starring in his own video games (for example), you alienate the people who don’t like that humor or who don’t play video games.
  • Eliminating people from a conversation can make the conversation better. For our part, we look at marketing as a conversation between brands, customers, and prospects. Imagine your brand as a party host, and the next party is board game night. You likely wouldn’t place an ad in the newspaper advertising the party. You would invite the people who you know make a board game enjoyable, and that also means not inviting the one friend flipped the Settlers of Catan board when he had a bad draw.

If you want your marketing to appeal to your target audiences in a memorable way, if you want your marketing to stand out from the noise of your space, and if you want the experience to be positive for both the brand its fans, you need to embrace the idea that truly exceptional content drives some people away. In driving some people away, you increase the impact for the people whom willingly stay to hear more.

From the Field: Identifying Worthwhile Prospects

Here’s a real story from one of my clients:

John Pojeta is the VP of Business Development at The PT Services Group. The short version of what they do is that they help insurance and financial advisors set first meetings with business-owner prospects. John and I were at a conference recently where the top tier event sponsors got to meet every conference attendee—insurance advisors, in this case—face to face, for 8 minutes.

Think speed-dating for potential marketing partners. Picture this: John and I each have our own tables as part of the event, and every 8 minutes, a new group of four decision-makers sits down to talk with the table hosts about what they do and how they might be able to help advisors.

This is a unique sales setting. The pressure is on because of the time limit, but the people in front of you are exactly your target audience. Well, almost.

The bell rings and John’s group rotates. As the new group sits down, John starts the conversation by giving the 30-second version of what PT can do for an advisor. One member of the new group immediately says, “Oh, we have more leads than we know what to do with. We definitely don’t have the capacity to take on more.”

John immediately responds, “That’s fantastic, but that also means you probably won’t get much out of this talk. You’re welcome to stay, but you could also use it to grab a quick break between rounds.”

And he was sincere. He didn’t want to waste her time (or his). Then he turned his focus on the remaining three and continued the conversation.

Don’t Waste a Turn

There are a few dynamics potentially at play here from a sales perspective—and John is much better at articulating those nuances than I would be—but the big takeaway is that John recognized that someone wasn’t the audience for his message, and instead of wasting breath trying to convince her that no, no, no, she really did need him even if she felt busy enough, he focused all of his energy on delivering a great experience for the prospects who were more likely to be better fits for what PT provides.

An interesting aside here: John says that when he was younger he probably would have chased this prospect and tried to push the sale regardless of what she said initially. Today, he views this interaction as an opportunity to set and control the tone of the conversation.

By making the choice to eliminate part of his audience, he also eliminates a potential distraction. If the woman stays in the conversations, even if she means well, her interjections or questions could distract from the engagement with the more valuable prospects (the ones who opted to stay in the conversation). With 8 minutes on the clock, 1 minute spent addressing her could eliminate an entire question from the other prospects.

And she already said she wasn’t interested, so why take time away from prospects who haven’t yet sent anti-buying signals?

John’s approach gave him the opportunity to narrow his focus, and he took it, gladly. He cut the deadweight and focused all of his energy on the better opportunities. In John’s metaphorical board game party, he focused on hosting a great party for the people who showed up to play Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and ignored the people who didn’t want to play in the first place.

Calm Down, Kiddo

When I suggest that brands fully commit to engaging their target audience by crafting messages so unique and compelling that they serve this target audience exclusively, I naturally get pushback. Businesses worry about offending potential future customers, and they worry that a narrow audience handicaps them against competitors who cast wide nets with everything they do.

These are reasonable concerns, but they aren’t as dire as you might think. Here’s why:

  • Broader tactics should still be a part of your marketing mix. In John’s example, The PT Services Group was promoted in email blasts to all of the attendees, he was on a mainstage panel, and PT branding was on every piece of event collateral. The key is that as the stakes got hire—down to a face to face sales conversation—the messaging becomes more specific. The net was cast wide to start, but when it was time to decide what fish to haul back to port, John was willing to throw the small ones back (and he might catch them again later when they are bigger).
  • Highly targeted messaging appeals to early adopters and drives word of mouth. If you want excited and passionate brand advocates, a generic message won’t get you there. When you take risks to excite a specific segment of your audience, the reward can be a small army of ambassadors who sing your brand’s praises, convincing new prospects to see your brand the way they do. Sometimes the path to record results is to think big about going small.
  • Pushing people away can be a way to draw them in. The psychology of exclusivity is well-known. A velvet rope across a door immediately makes whatever lies beyond more tantalizing. When your marketing is carefully crafted for one audience, you can create an “in-crowd” dynamic. Prospects who may not have been interested in your standard value propositions might be more apt to listen when they see that they might be left out. You can do this with gates and fences (and velvet ropes), but oftentimes all you need to do is to build a crowd of fans who “get it.”
  • Marketing is the first step toward serving the right customers. In all businesses—some more than others perhaps—there are customers you don’t want. For an insurance business, that may mean only serving clients of a certain size. For a comic book shop that might mean focusing on repeat customers over the eBay scalpers who swoop in to buy up every copy of the “hot” issue to resell later. This topic deserves a write-up in its own right, but focusing on bringing in the right audience for your business can mean a big return on investment in the long run.

If you aren’t using this philosophy in your business today, start by looking at your most profitable, most passionate customers. Figure out what sets them apart and develop marketing initiatives that double- and triple-down on bringing in more prospects like them.

That will mean leaving people out, but that’s the point. If you want board game night to be a success, you need people who love playing board games (and are nice to your other guests and whoever else is helping you run the event) and who invite more people like them. Along the way, you may convert non-gamers as they see how much fun you’re having, but if you bring keg-stand guy to a marathon session of Risk Legacy, board game night will fail.

Don’t invite keg-stand guy. Save him for a different party at a different time.