Don’t be a generalist – be a specialist

You can’t please everybody all the time. If you try you actually end up pleasing nobody all the time. This is what television broadcasting companies and record companies have only just started to realise. ITV for example has tried for years to please the ‘masses’, the ‘popular vote’, the ‘average viewer’ only to find that now no such viewer exists. As a commercial television broadcaster their revenue comes from advertisements during the programmes. So they have to put on programmes that the demographic for the adverts would want to see. Recent viewing figures have shown that less and less people want to watch what ITV has to offer that many advertisers no longer want to invest in spending their money on commercial television. Last year Cadbury have ended their ten year sponsorship of Coronation Street.

The days of everyone in the nation doing the same thing are long gone. The 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas show was watched by 30 million people. That amounted to every home that had a television and 60% of the population. Now the most watched television reaches 15 million (Eastenders and Doctor Who) which is only 16% of the country.

The Sun claims to be the UK’s most popular newspaper with an average of 7.8 million readers every day (twice as many and The Times). The Sun claim to be ‘the voice of the nation’ but the reality is that only 13% of the population actually read it, so it’s not that popular after all.

When the BBC started releasing archive television programmes on video in the 1980s they made an assumption that the audience for the videos was a general one who would be interested in the old programmes from a general interest point of view. So they made compilations of long running shows such as Doctor Who and Monty Python, creating a ‘best of’ video series. What took them a long time to realise was that the potential Doctor Who audience wanted the entire episodes uncut, not edited. The Doctor Who audience was a specialist audience who would pay handsomely to have their favourite programme in its entirety. They even wanted the BBC indents, trailers, out-takes and behind the scenes interviews released. The BBC realised that they were now catering for a specialist market that was so much bigger than the general interest market they’d originally planned for. In the 80s and 90s Doctor Who made more money through merchandise for the BBC than all of the rest of its output put together and that was while the programme was off air for 16 years.

In marketing terms this is known as ‘the long tail’. A bookshop in town with limited shelf space needs to stock the books that are going to sell so it stocks all the ‘best-sellers’. Simply put it’s a business model that relies on selling a few titles to lots of people. On the other hand, an internet specialist shop sells lots of obscure titles to a few people. Because of the internet, the people who love the more obscure titles can be reached, even though they are spread all over the world. In effect the specialist market for something obscure is now huge. This is how new bands are able to market their music more effectively than ever before. There may not be many glam goth teddy boy punk heads in your town but when you capture the one from every town you have a sizeable market.

This is how many business have made a lot of money out of internet marketing in recent years – by realising that the marketplace is fragmented. Everyone is interested in something and there’s no common ground to reach them all on. There are no generalist customers out there. They all have specialist needs. We can meet those needs with our business by becoming specialists ourselves. The new rule is that it’s possible to please somebody all of the time.

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