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Specialization is scary but required for digital marketing

I have been talking a lot about differentiation being critical for successful digital marketing. On Monday, I gave a differentiation example for large companies and on Wednesday I gave an example of a small company needing to differentiate. And differentiation online often requires specializing–not just extolling how your product is different and better, but actually choosing particular uses, particular market segments, and just plain smaller markets than you tried to serve with offline marketing. And that’s just plain scary.

Specializing makes everyone fraidy-scared–large companies, small companies and every kind of company in between.

Why? Because we all run a little scared in our businesses, at least sometimes. We all reach for revenue that isn’t exactly a fit for us. We all try to be all things to all people at times, because we need the money. Very few of us are running at capacity. Hardly any of us think that we are making enough money. The few of us that think we are OK at the moment would still like to be making more now because who knows whether it could all go south next week.

Very scary
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So, when someone approaches you with something that isn’t exactly your specialty, but you still think you could pull it off, you say yes. If someone wants to buy your product to solve a problem that isn’t quite what it was designed for, but you think it could work, you sell it. If a customer wants you to do some consulting on a subject that you have passing knowledge of, you often say yes. And none of that is bad. We can all do many things capably that are not in our sweet spots, and our products can be used in many ways that they aren’t exactly perfect for. Accepting these opportunities is not a problem.

Where it becomes a problem is when we broaden that to our marketing. When we market our products or services as if they actually are perfect across that wide range of opportunities that we’d accept, we actually do ourselves a disservice online.

Let me explain. In order to appear to do everything, it might start to appear that you specialize in nothing. Indulge me in a personal example. I could market myself as knowing how to do everything in digital marketing, and truthfully, I have taken on many projects and performed capably–clients have been pleased and have asked me back.

But if all I had on my Web site was that I do digital marketing, then when someone is looking for search marketing or social media marketing–my real sweet spots–they would not find me, even though those areas are certainly within digital marketing. So, when clients have more specialized needs they are looking for more specialized things, so I am much better off marketing myself as someone who specializes in those areas, rather than leaving the impression that I am equally adept at e-mail marketing, mobile marketing, and display advertising, which I am not.

Someday, even search and social might be too broad. There might be so many people in those spaces and the depth of knowledge required there might be so great that I need to specialize even more.

But it is scary. Even I feel it. I mean, I can certainly put together a good e-mail marketing strategy and I can explain how to set up your return on investment for mobile marketing–so why shouldn’t I put all that stuff on my Web site? After all, if I don’t, won’t I be losing those opportunities because people think I am too specialized? Why shouldn’t I list everything?

Because it muddies the waters, that’s why. The truth is that I am way better at search and social strategies and search and social ROI than at those other tasks, and if I just lay everything out there, my specialities don’t shine through. Even if I lose a few opportunities that I can capably handle, it’s not worth the risk of losing more opportunities that I am perfect for. And those opportunities that I am perfect for are much easier for me to actually win the jobs, not just win attention on my site and then later lose out to someone who seems more of a specialist in that area than I am. And, I am more likely to do a fantastic job when it is my specialty, which leads to happy customers who want more and who will refer me to others.

Don’t get trapped in trying to do everything. Focus your marketing to appear to be the specialist that you really are, for products or services. And don’t be afraid to specialize even more as time goes on. It’s actually the secret to attention on the Web.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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