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How to Get Your Message Heard in a Crowded Market

by Kathryn Roy  |  
July 6, 2010

One of my favorite marketing articles is "Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure," written by innovation guru Clayton M. Christensen, Intuit cofounder Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall of the Advertising Research Foundation.

Published in the December 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review, the article teaches important lessons about developing and differentiating products in today's crowded markets, including crafting the most effective messages.

Wrong From the Start

Christensen and his coauthors point out that product developers and marketers often set themselves up for failure right from the start by defining target segments in terms of customer types (contractors, homeowners, small businesses, large corporations) instead of customer needs. To develop and promote products that make headway in crowded markets—or even expand markets—companies should focus on the "job" that customers want accomplished.

Their article expands on the legendary observation made by Harvard Business School marketing professor Ted Levitt: People don't want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.

Almost every marketer has heard this maxim, but many fail to act on it.

The Right Approach

Look at the "job" performed by McDonald's shakes, the authors write. Observing and interviewing shake buyers and sales patterns, researchers found that a surprising number of shake sales were made during breakfast hours. Researchers discovered that many people who bought these morning shakes had long, boring commutes and needed something that would last most of their commute so they wouldn't be hungry again at 10 a.m.

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Kathryn Roy is managing partner of Precision Thinking (, a consulting firm helping B2B technology companies boost the effectiveness of their marketing and sales organizations. Reach her via or Twitter (@karoy1).

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  • by Erik Charles - CNY MMA Mon Jul 12, 2010 via web

    Right on. I own multiple Martial Arts schools and this is exactly what I tell my staff. Find out why they want to do Martial Arts and then show them a program that can help them accomplish that goal. Thanks for sharing!

  • by Barbara Bix Tue Aug 3, 2010 via web


    Thanks for another great article! Companies are so much more noticeable when they don't blend into the crowd.

    When I present our interview results to clients looking to understand their unique value, many are often surprised to learn what their customers really valued most about their offer.

    Like MacDonald's where entertainment was as or more important than hunger, the unique value is a) not always obvious and b) elevates their messages above the competition. Instead, the "obvious" is just the price of market entry. It's the unique twist that elevates the company above the crowd in the eyes--not in everyone's eyes--but in the eyes of its most promising prospects!

    With limited resources, companies can't afford not to narrow their focus to the special requirements of those who most value what they have to offer.

    This maxim is even more true for B2B companies with long expensive sales cycles than it is to consumers. Sharp value props that resonate with prospects can knock months off the sales cycle--often a better outcome than getting the price premium that great positioning also commands.

  • by SEAN CLARK Thu Aug 5, 2010 via web

    Excellent post and a nice reminder for most.. The HBR piece is still one on my top 10 list..
    Unfortunately though, too many marketing pro's insist on ignoring the obvious, choosing instead to pound with the same dull hammer.

    I fondly refer to this still rather large group as the smokers. They still don't get it. And for those that do, they'd rather not..

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