Nearly every small business falls for this. They ‘hear’ it so much they think, “It must be true,” so they follow the advice, making very false, very damaging business assumptions built around it.

You see it with the restaurant opened by someone who is a fabulous cook. And they close.

You see it with the very talented mechanic who has lots of work but never any money.

You see it with the highly sociable, house-loving new realtor who can’t ever seem to close a sale.

And you see it with plumbing companies — and most any other trade — that constantly struggle getting to that next level. They inch ahead, then drop back. Or they start off strong and fade as rapidly, all due to the biggest business lie: “If you’re good at what you do, you’ll be successful at what you do.”

Wrong. Devastatingly, awfully wrong.

There are many, many outstanding writers who starve. There are phenomenally talented musicians who can’t get enough gigs to pay their gas money between shows. Talent is no precursor to acceptance or success. So, what is?

An audience.

A crowd of eager customers started off as a crowd of people who had no idea who you were or that you were this good. Your food, expertise, essays, music and giftedness were a complete secret to them — that is, until they became convincingly aware that they needed to just ‘try’ you. One meal, one meeting, one song, one small mechanical ‘test’ to win their allegiance. A message1 resonated with the crowd, and they said, “I’ll try it.”

They become fans — minor at first. You regularly remind these minor fans that you appreciate them, respect them and treat them well. They tell others, who then tell others.

You start to see a market2 for you emerge. You remind them that you appreciate them, respect them and treat them well. You are consistent.

And inside this growing group, you now have major fans or advocates3, rising to the top, who’ll try any new dish, song, book or service you have to offer.

You tout to the not-yet-fans the very virtues4 that have attracted so many and invite them only to ‘try’ you out. Just the once, and let them be the judge. And your talent is obvious. The crowd grows and you’re off to the races. Your prices can rise above the norm, as there is no ‘norm’ for pricing5 the truly excellent. People pay up for excellence, as it should be.

NOTE: You’ve the exact same talent as when there was a $10 cover at Rock Bottom Pub from largely disinterested beer drinkers, but now fans are paying $400 to sit on the front row.

Except, who are these fans? Where’d they come from? Did we invent them?

They were out there already. They are out there now. They are eager for the message, the music, the mechanic, the man or woman who ‘gets it’ — finally — and they merely redirect energy from ‘lost’ to ‘found.’

Yet you would not send your classical music to the punk rock club to see how they liked it. You’d not win any customers for your succulent prime rib from a group of vegetarians. You do not gain pediatric patients (children) by sending your message to the retirement community.

Contrary to a ridiculous belief that if a person has a home then they must be a prospect for your trade, you do not target everybody — only the somebodies seeking you who are receptive to your message. They are called your target market, and with very good reason.

Thus, the message to market match is the criteria by which Taylor Swift went from playing a two-bit gig in my hometown to multi-platinum Grammy status. Or why Ruth’s Chris wouldn’t come to my town in a zillion years though I’d be out there once a week (or until my Visa card was revoked as a result).

And it is why a thousand people in your town haven’t yet chosen you as their contractor. Maybe several thousand. They are waiting. They are tired of waiting. They just want to be fixed, handled, resolved and confident that you’ll keep applying the skills that originally won them over so they can cross that concern off the list.

Being good at what you do is where this all starts. But it will also end there unless you do this.

Telling the right crowd what makes you different, better and why they should care is marketing’s highest achievement.


The footnotes

Message. Your marketing message. Position. Image. Branding. Is it erratic and sloppy or consistent and professional? Which does Apple choose? Your message is not a license to brag, blend in or bash competitors. It is your differentiation, or why would people bother to even call you? Answer: They wouldn’t, aren’t, and won’t. Once you get this right, it must be aimed at….

Market. Who gives a rip about your message? The tired, frustrated, wealthy, budget-conscious, younger, older, hipper, over-marketed, under-served individual, that’s who. Confused? Exactly. That’s who most think they should be marketing to. Choose. Be selective. Draw a picture of them. A radius around them. An income, education, home age — any commonalities whatsoever — and aim your message to them. They will respond. They always do.

Major fans and advocate. This means list segmentation. The high-dollar frequent users vs. the once-every-two-years cheapskates. Measure, define, trim, and tighten your focus. Quit spending $500 to attract a $100 customer whom you’d pay $300 to start using the competition.

Virtues. I also call them “distinguishing differentiators.” If the crowd loves your guarantees, your on-time techs, your consistently friendly follow-up and your charity work and online reviews, then it makes sense to include those in messages to win others like them.

Pricing. Would the typical NASCAR fan pay $100 to watch me drive in a circle for four hours? Doubtful. Would he pay an initial $400 plus food, beverage, headsets, program, hat, memorabilia, car model and wait in line 1 hour to buy this year’s T-shirt — now totaling nearly $700 — to watch ‘his’ driver? Any Sunday he can.

You’ll notice that fandom — advocacy, as we’ve described it — is rarely based on the bargain. If it is, meaning you have made “bargain” or “economy” as part of your message, then you have created that sensitivity. (Note: Budgetel, General Insurance, Mickey Beer all intentionally serve that market — they do not have “excellence” in their messaging.)

When you get the first three right, you can rightfully expect to raise your prices and only lose the customers who are weaned on bargains. A decent trade-off.