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The Terrifying Path of Narrow Positioning

In my early years as a creative entrepreneur I tried all manner of tactics to market my firm: print ads, online ads, mailers, cold calls, sponsoring public radio, and even a terrible chocolate cake strategy. Despite my diligent efforts, I don’t recall any of them achieving significant results.

However, everything changed when I hired David C. Baker in 2000. He became the catalyst for a paradigm shift in my approach to marketing. He emphasized the importance of finding a niche and carving out a narrow, specialized positioning. From that one terrifying commitment, everything else fell into place. Initially, I resisted his advice, as most of his clients do, but I couldn’t deny the logic and his track record of helping firms like mine.

As creatives, we often resist the notion of limitations and long-term repetition. We have an innate desire to explore, experiment, and try new things. The idea of doing one kind of work for one kind of client indefinitely goes against our creative impulses.

The Power of Focus: Easier and More Effective Marketing

However, if we can embrace this wisdom, suppress our inner Jack Kerouac, and declare a focus, things become easier and more effective. We can easily identify our target market and articulate their specific needs based on our experience with similar clients. The more we refine our focus, the better we become, and the more respected we are among our prospects, even before they approach us.

This shift allowed me to transition from scrambling after every opportunity to selectively choosing the most rewarding projects and clients. With a narrow focus, my marketing efforts became more targeted and their impact steadily increased. When I eventually sold the company to one of my key employees, our challenge shifted from finding clients to deciding which clients to accept.

It’s important to note that establishing a narrow positioning doesn’t mean you can’t take on projects or clients outside that scope. It simply means you concentrate your marketing efforts on attracting clients within your defined focus. Besides, if most of your current work comes through word of mouth and referrals, you can always choose to take on unrelated projects.

The Struggle and the Courage: Making the Leap

When I first encountered this path, it took me a while to accept it and even longer to determine my focus. Eventually, I took the leap. Yet, it wasn’t just a decision and a leap—it required significant investment of time in rebranding, content development, and crafting a new marketing strategy. Throughout the process, I wrestled with the fear of long-term consequences and self-doubt.

Embracing the Artistic Pursuit of Craftsmanship

In the end, I never regretted making that decision. It led to a highly successful creative practice that continues to thrive today. However, I vividly remember the fear and the necessary effort of making that change. I’ve contemplated how this struggle particularly affects creatives and considered alternative perspectives.

There are approaches we can adopt to make this transition easier, though not necessarily easy. We can strive to be more like Leonardo. Leonardo Da Vinci famously claimed that “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.” This perspective differs from our contemporary mindset. Yet, when we look at the great masters of art history, they were all masters of their craft. Their rigorous focus on one style and medium resulted in enduring works that still captivate the world.

Unleashing the Power of Discipline

The best of the best incorporated discipline into their creative productivity. Why should we assume it would be any different for us? Admittedly, it’s harder for us. Our creative predecessors relied on wealthy patrons to access basic materials like paper, canvas, pigments, or granite blocks. In contrast, we can have pre-mixed paint delivered to our door overnight, and we have computers with access to an endless array of fonts and images. The restraints and limitations that were intrinsic to the creative process in Leonardo’s time are absent today. Therefore, if we want to embrace his insight, we need to exercise self-control.

However, if we start viewing ourselves as artisans rather than bohemian explorers, we may uncover a secret known to dedicated craftsmen. When we delve deep into a specific area of expertise and truly master a craft, boredom dissipates, and fascination deepens. Below the surface, there are intricate details and mysteries to explore that remain unknown to those who merely skim the surface.

Inspiration from the Pursuit of Craftsmanship

If you want to experience this feeling, I recommend watching the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on Netflix. It portrays an elderly Japanese culinary artist who dedicated his entire life to mastering the art of sushi preparation. His small restaurant seats fewer than a dozen people, yet the waiting list stretches for months. Another inspiring documentary is “Crafted” by Morgan Spurlock, available on Amazon Prime. It follows the stories of artisans who have devoted themselves to excelling in one specific craft. These sources of inspiration can help unlock the pursuit of craftsmanship, strengthening your resolve to hone a narrow positioning for your creative practice.

Efficiency and Impact: Marketing with a Narrow Positioning

By embracing a narrow positioning, you’ll reap the compounded benefits and efficiencies this decision provides, especially in terms of marketing. You’ll be able to produce meaningful case studies and other effective content more easily, showcasing your expertise and attracting the right clients.

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