Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why You Can No Longer Afford to Specialize

In the late 1970s, comedian, Steve Martin coined the phrase, "Let's Get Small." Little did the iconic star of screen, stage and studio realize that he was also talking about brand.

If Martin were to release a follow-up to that Grammy-winning comedy album in 2011, I'd suggest he call it: "Let's Get Even Smaller."

You see, for years I've been counseling clients that the secret to making your business bigger is make it smaller. Or, simply put, specialize.

Like vinyl records, Palm Pilots and Shake Weights, everything eventually runs its course. Today, the key to hitting it big in business isn't specializing.

It's micro-specializing.

What is micro-specializing? First, a little context about our current place in time. In a wired - and wireless - world, boundaries are no longer defined geographically. Brands appear virtually at our fingertips and sometimes thousands in as little as 0.13 seconds.

Then there's physical saturation. Check out the 5-mile radius around my little slice of suburbia:
  • Over 160 chiropractors
  • 200-plus (non-fast food) restaurants
  • Some 50 places that will fix my computer
  • Nearly 50 interior designers
At one time triathlons, laptops, and social media were specializations. Today, they've evolved into categories, giving way to the Warrior Dash (micro-sports), iPads (micro-computers) and Twitter (micro-media).

How does a specialization morph into a category? It spawns a host of imitators, often with indistinguishable differences, and turns mainstream almost as fast as a Google search! Unless you get inside heads first, when a specialization turns into category, you could be in big trouble.

Specialization is also a term that's losing its, well, "specialness." I encounter brands almost daily spraying things like: "We specialize in neck pain, back pain, carpal tunnel, stress relief, headaches, overall wellness..." Watered down? Try drowning!

A micro-specialist is someone or some thing that specializes in an area of specialization (or category) and sounds like this: "Our sole focus..." or "our only purpose..."

Dave Stockton is a golf coach. But he's a micro-specialist, focused on the "other" game - the one played on the green. Ask U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy how that's working out.

Doctor in the Kitchen makes healthy snacks. Founded and guided by doctors, flax seed at its core and a "Good Food is Wise Medicine" brand mission, it's a micro-specialist.

Even within the highly-specialized Navy SEALs, there is an elite unit known as SEAL Team 6. They're the micro-specialists - and heroes - that took out Osama Bin Laden.

Steve Martin also once said that "comedy may be big business but it ain't pretty." That too could be a brand reference. Micro-specializing might not always be pretty, but it is the key to making your business big now and in the future.

These are my GUTS feelings.