Budgets are tight in 2004. All marketers are being asked to do more with less. And, let's face it, the business climate is so dynamic that more likely than not your 2004 plans (and budgets) are constantly adjusted in real time.

However, in the rush to jumpstart revenues and execute on the marketing plan before those precious dollars evaporate, too many marketers are losing touch with their marketing strategy.

Strategy, it seems, is fine for beginning-of-the-year exercises, but it's often shuttered in a dark closet until budget exercises for 2005.

The rest of 2004 shouldn't just be about marketing tactics. Instead, your marketing strategy should adjust with the daily/weekly changes in the business environment. With these things said, let's pause for a minute, take a step back and revisit a word that should be on everyone's mind for the rest of 2004— “focus.”

Michael Porter, Harvard business professor and master strategist, has outlined three generic strategies to achieve competitive advantage: focus, differentiation and cost leadership.

In many of his seminal works, he argues that a good strategy depends on obtaining leadership in two or more of these strategies; however, for sake of argument, let's focus on focus and its application to marketing through three best practice examples.

In and Out Burger is a fast-food chain in the Western United States. Those who have had the privilege of eating at In and Out Burger should consider themselves fortunate—it offers possibly the best hamburger available.

What you might find interesting about In and Out Burger, however, is that it has had the same menu for more than an decade. In these days of McPizza and Jack in the Box offering fancy sandwiches in an attempt to differentiate their offerings, In and Out Burger offers what they always have: burgers, fries and sodas. No chicken, no salads, no low-carb meals, no biggie sizes.

Just hamburgers, fries and sodas—with a milkshake or two thrown in.

Now you begin to argue, “Well, that's fine, but ‘focus' is In and Out's business strategy—what does that have to do with marketing?”

The fact is that In and Out doesn't do much traditional advertising. It relies on a great product and word-of-mouth referrals. However, examine how crisply its marketing (Web, promotions, targeting, signage) aligns with its strategy of focus.

Marketing investments don't always need to be about advertising, promotions and direct response campaigns! In fact, Kamron Karington, author of The Black Book: Your Guide to Creating Staggering Profits In Your Pizza Business, concludes that In and Out's best marketing investment is its treatment of employees and the investment put into the customer experience.

A key reason In and Out Burger succeeds while others struggle is focus—it doesn't try to be everything to everyone. It isn't caught up in fads or the latest burger creation. “Focus” permeates everything—the menu, the marketing, and the employees. This is one hamburger chain that has a relentless focus on focus.

Some advertisers have the concept of focus down to a science. If you have ever listened to the Michael Savage radio show, you will undoubtedly hear a commercial for Swiss America Trading Corporation. This purveyor of gold coins, Swiss America, advertises at least once a day during Michael's three-hour show; and I would not be surprised if it advertised every hour. It seems that it owns the show, judging from the amount of advertising—it has completely saturated the Michael Savage show.

OK, you say, “That seems pretty much like putting all your eggs in one basket—what a dumb marketing strategy, right?”

Mark Twain would beg to differ: “Put your eggs in one basket—but watch that basket!”

With such a fragmented audience (competing with TV, Internet, billboards, etc.), why would Swiss America choose to focus on the Michael Savage show? The brilliance of this strategy lies in the delivery of the message. Swiss America has paid Mr. Savage to endorse its products, and he pitches them during the commercial break.

Mr. Savage also caters to a specific audience—conservative radio listeners—and those people are the target audience of choice when pitching a product like gold coins (some would argue it's a very conservative investment).

Is Swiss America reaching everyone? No, but it is reaching its target audience with a very focused marketing strategy. It is making its advertising dollars count by focusing on one show, with one target audience and then saturating the airwaves. It's a brilliant marketing strategy.

There are more examples to choose from, but the last best-practice example of marketing focus I want to share is a local realtor in the San Diego area. In addition to being a man of integrity, with a long client list and exceptional service record, Guy Morgan is also an exceptional marketer. His real estate Web site can be found at livinginshadowridge.com.

Mr. Morgan faces a lot of competition, but his relentless pursuit of marketing focus sets him apart from the pack. He sends out a direct mail about every other week to the Shadowridge area, a carve-out community of San Diego, showing neighbors who have listed their property with him—using that tried and true social proof technique: “Hey, your neighbors trust me with selling their home —you should too!”

He also provides value to potential clients with content on his Web site: school reports, real estate tips, and transactions of properties that he's sold in your area.

However, the key point and takeaway here is the marketing focus that Mr. Morgan employs. He sells in Shadowridge—he markets exclusively to home owners in this one area. By tightly focusing his marketing dollars on a specific segment—in this case a key community—Guy Morgan makes his dollars go further than his competitors.

But perhaps you're not convinced. What do a burger chain, a gold-coin seller and a real estate agent know about marketing strategy?

The concept of focus as a marketing strategy is not new—in fact it's pretty elementary. However, it's the execution of the concept that makes the difference. The burger chain, the gold-coin seller and the real estate agent are whipping their competition! They are spending fewer dollars than the competition and getting more—more value, more current business and more referrals and future business.

You don't have to employ focus as a marketing strategy—but then again you don't have to be around in 2005, either.

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Paul A. Barsch directs the professional services marketing programs for one of the top 10 software companies in the United States and blogs about the intersection and impact of technology and marketing (www.paulbarsch.com). He can be contacted at paulbarsch(at)yahoo(dotcom).