In the early days of the oil business, crude was so plentiful you could almost plunge a drinking straw into the ground and strike black gold. In oil-rich areas, reserves were vast, close to the surface, and they were everywhere.
But as the planet became dependant on Texas tea to fuel civilization and create more drinking straws to find more crude, the “easy oil” was depleted. Today, prospectors require sophisticated equipment to narrow down the location of new reserves, and they have to drill ever deeper to reach it.
Business today is following a similar trajectory. Markets are becoming increasingly complex and siloed. Consumers are growing savvier, and the demands placed on industries, from competition, regulation, and financial pressures are requiring ever more distinct solutions.
Companies looking to sell their services in this environment are finding it more challenging to strike business by poking the competitive ground widely with a shallow understanding. Today, it can be more effective for organizations to devote themselves to researching niches where their expertise is the most in-demand and then going deep into those industries.
Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” summed the situation well. While his elocution was cruel, callous, and grotesquely murderous, the sentiment applies. He said:
“I have a straw. There it is, it’s a straw, you see? Watch it. Now my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I… drink… your… milkshake. I drink it up!”
If you want to claim your share of the milkshakes in the world, you need a long straw, and you need to guide it skillfully. Below you’ll find several benefits available to those that go narrow and deep with their services.
You’ll Build Credibility and Establish Yourself as an Expert
Some services require highly-specialized knowledge. Doctors and lawyers are good examples of this. In nearly every case, these practitioners select a specialty.
Attorneys might focus on family law, criminal law, or patent law. Doctors could choose to specialize as podiatrists, dermatologists, anesthesiologists, or pediatricians. Technical fields require specialization because no one person can effectively learn everything needed to satisfy patients or clients in every discipline. Attempting it would almost certainly assure failure in all of them.
As a result, there’s a perception that specialized businesses are more knowledgable about their areas of focus. This gives them an advantage when pursuing work in their niche. Clients are more likely to hire them, even if it means paying higher rates if the competition is generalists. People recognize the value specialists bring to the table.
Restaurants, food trucks, and other culinary businesses take the same tactic. Specialization allows them to create a sculpted menu that appeals to the whims of specific groups of diners. If you were in the mood for authentic chicken vindaloo, would you go to Bombay Cafe, or the International House of Italian, Mexican, Pan-Asian Burgers, and Schwarma?
It’s often better to do one thing very well and dominate a small niche, rather than attempt to master many different things and miss the mark in all of them. Bombay Cafe may only pull in customers looking for quality Indian food, but they’ll likely acquire a loyal customer base that returns repeatedly.
IHIMPABS has a much broader potential market. Still, unless people are looking for teriyaki bruschetta burgers with mole sauce, it’s improbable that anyone will trust this establishment to prepare their favorite dishes properly. Focusing narrow and deep establishes credibility.
You Can Solve Problems More Effectively
Not every industry uses products and services in the same way. Imagine you’re a software company looking to build a new business billing platform. Is it better to create a package that can be adapted for use by any company, or one that’s designed to cater to the exacting needs of one particular industry?
The former must, by necessity, be a generalist in design. It can’t be hyperspecific; otherwise, it wouldn’t be adaptable. This means it will be incapable of handling some of the nuances present in most industries.
This might be fine for companies that only need basic invoicing functions. But many other firms will prefer tools built to handle all of the persnickety little details that make their businesses unique. When you have exacting needs, a specialist tool works better. And the organizations are likely willing to pay a premium for it.
Companies that ply their services narrowly and deeply can solve more complicated problems and create services that are better targeted to the markets where they’re focused. They’ll hold little appeal for companies outside of their niche, but their targeted approach allows them higher rates and larger market share within their focus area. Frequently this more than makes up for lost opportunities.
You Can React More Effectively to Your Customer’s Changing Business Needs
When your focus is wide and shallow, you can’t possibly understand the nuances of every industry you service. Each one is subject to its unique pressures, regulations, and market irregularities. If you’re not familiar with the business minutia for each industry you service, essential changes can slip your radar.
Let’s say you’re a business consultant. There are undoubtedly general principles that apply to most enterprises. However, for your guidance to be beneficial, it needs to be aware of nuance. Imagine that a given industry recently underwent subtle regulatory changes. If this escaped your awareness, you might end up giving your client lousy advice, causing them real problems. And they were doing just fine generating problems without you.
However, if you focused your consultancy on a narrow band of industries, and plumbed them deeply, learning everything there is to know, your value to companies in your niche would increase exponentially. You’ll be able to react more quickly and adapt your advice to subtle shifts in the marketplace.
“Gather Around Everyone. Have I Got a Deal for You!”
This phrase is almost always spoken by people that don’t have anything of value to offer, and certainly no useful deals.
Take the hucksters of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They regaled crowds with patent medicines they claimed cured everything that ailed you but usually did absolutely nothing, save get you supremely blitzed off their cocktail of alcohol, opium, and cocaine (look it up, it’s true!). These were the ultimate generalists, and they were utterly ineffective.
Of course, we’re not claiming that businesses that opt for a wide and shallow approach are hucksters. It’s a perfectly valid strategy, and many excellent companies use it effectively. In fact, in some industries, it’s the only way to fly. We’re merely pointing out that when something tries to be valuable for everyone, it’s often not useful to anyone. Or at least not nearly as helpful as it could be.
At CCG, we know a thing or two about going narrow and deep. We’re the only creative marketing and graphic design firm with a deep focus on the flavors and ingredients industry. As a result, we can offer our clients marketing and design insights they can’t get anywhere else. The strategy has been enormously successful for us, and it could be for you, too.