"I'm really tired of being pigeonholed as a (fill-in-the-role). There's more to me than that!"
Frustrating, isn't it? When others categorize you and put you in a box that doesn't describe the fullness of who you are?
(Fact: The word "pigeonhole" is derived from the small compartments where pigeons were kept. The meaning carried over to desks and other furniture, where mail and documents could be categorized and stored.)
We are multifaceted people, and we want to be recognized as more than just a ___________.
But in regards to business, maybe we should want to be pigeonholed.
Here's the reality of business: Each of us as professionals and all of our companies will be pigeonholed. It is human nature to try to categorize people, so we can maintain some sort of order in our memories. Our brains can't help pigeonholing.
So, shouldn't we take advantage of that fact?
Here's an example of the positive side of pigeonholing... What do I think of when Dave Delaney comes to mind? I think digital marketing, Nashville, networking, connector, podcaster, and loyal friend. Those are the keywords—the hashtags, if you will—in my mind to describe Dave. I have him, in that sense, pigeonholed. When someone needs a digital marketing consultant, perhaps in the mid-South, and especially with a need to implement social media strategies, who am I going to think of? Dave Delaney. Because I have him pigeonholed accurately (and positively), I know who to turn to.
You're either going to occupy some space in the minds of customers (and collaborators), or you'll occupy no space. So, isn't it better to clearly define your sweet spot in the marketplace and make that message abundantly memorable?
One of our main goals of effective branding and messaging is to occupy the right space in the minds of others. People are surrounded by noise, and they generally don't have time to figure us out. People will put us in some mental cubbyhole or just bury us on a very crowded desktop.
That's why I want to be pigeonholed. Customers then know when to call me. People know when to refer me. I don't want people to reach out to me for U, V, W, X, and Y when I make my money at Z.
I don't want to refer someone who need sales help with retail Australian fashion outlets to Dave Delaney. It's not the right fit. It wouldn't be a good business match.
Some argue that we should cast a wide net, so we don't miss a potential business opportunity. But here's the thing... The vast majority of potential business opportunities out there aren't for me. Everyone is not my customer. All I need is a relatively small number of clients that love what I do well.
There's a lot of potential business in a (well-chosen) pigeonhole!
The Negatives of Being Pigeonholed
The other side of this coin is worth discussing. Let's think about these questions:
- What if I don't fit in the box I'm in?
- What if my business model or offering changes?
- What if my business involves more than one thing?
There are tricky issues involved when pigeonholing intersects with the dynamic nature of the marketplace. But since we're going to be put in a box, should we not have a clear strategy in place to help people store the correct keywords about us?
I'd love to know your thoughts about being pigeonholed... Do you aim at a very narrow niche? How can you be well-positioned in the minds of your customers while still maintaining the flexibility to evolve? When and how might you not want to be pigeonholed?
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