Can You Market Without Focus? A Parable to Learn From

March 22, 2005
The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I dont care how good your mousetrap is,

Note: The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I don’t care how good your mousetrap is, few people will buy it if you do not market it well.

Being the loving, thoughtful, and considerate husband I am, I frequently ask my wife if there’s something I can pick up from the grocery store for her while on the way home. Despite what anyone else might say, the fact that these occasions often correspond to the times when we are running low on Sam Adams has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Sometimes my wife will ask for one item, such as bread or milk. Of course, I handle this task with consummate efficiency. I’m so efficient that I usually pick up several things we need that I’m certain my wife would have mentioned, but forgot. You know, basic food staples like a large jar of hot Pace Picant Sauce and Sam Adams.

Write It Down? Why?

But sometimes, the list gets longer.

“Well, we need bread and milk,” she says.

“No problem.”

“Oh, and we need some detergent. Get the Arm & Hammer with the chemical free label. It’s in a yellow box.”

“Arm & Hammer, chemical free,” I say, though I’m wondering how detergent can be chemical free. After all, isn’t a box a detergent nothing more than a box of cleaning chemicals?

“We also need some Bisquick.”

“Bisquick. Got it.” By now I’m thinking that this is getting a little out of hand. I mean, bread is good enough.

“And the kids want some ice cream.”

“Ice cream,” I reply, knowing that it’s smart to repeat things so I’ll remember. Then I remember that we’re running low on Louisiana Hot Sauce. Now THIS is critical. It’s a basic food staple. I also remember that I keep meaning to write them about their false and deceptive tag line. It says “one drop does it all.” That’s a lie. One drop is not nearly enough. One drop might work for sissies and Yankees, but not for me. I wish they’d get rid of the shaker bottle and replace it with a pour spout. For that matter, why don’t they sell it in milk cartons?

My wife breaks my train of thought. She’s saying something about Modripicopan or something like that in the pharmaceuticals section.

“Got it,” I say, though I’m not really sure what it is that she wants. I figure I’ll just go to the pharmaceutical section and look for something with a long, funny name. After all, how many things it the pharmaceuticals section could have long funny names?

“You won’t forget?” she asks.

“Forget!” I reply, sounding offended and hurt by her lack of faith at the same time. “I’ve got a mind like a steel trap. Engineers never forget.”

I don’t bother to write any of this down because I’m answering email while we’re talking. I’m demonstrating efficiency by multitasking. It takes me about an hour to finish the email and I head out.

I Can’t Remember

At the store, I snap up the bread, but then my steel trap mind closes. Hmm. What’s next on the list? I wander down the frozen food section trying to remember what it was that I’m supposed to get. I never do remember because I get distracted by a box of frozen crab stuffed shrimp. They look pretty good so I grab a box.

In the pharmaceuticals section, there’s about a million little boxes of stuff with long funny names. I can’t remember what the name was that I thought my wife said, only that it was long and funny, so I lowest price box with a long funny name, figuring that if it’s the wrong thing, at least I haven’t spent too much.

Next, I head for the detergent. I manage to remember the yellow box and that allows me to zero in on Arm & Hammer, but there’s a half dozen varieties. I know there was something specific I was supposed to get, but what the heck. Detergent is detergent. I grab a box and move on to the important stuff.

After picking up some Sam and a big bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce, I smugly head for the check out line and home.

The Result

When I get home, my wife is appalled that I forgot half the stuff she wanted and bought the wrong thing for most of the remainder.

“How can you get this many things wrong?” she asks with exasperation.

“Well, you had unrealistic expectations,” I reply sincerely. I learned that this is not the best response, though it is accurate. It was unrealistic to expect me to remember more than three things without writing them down.

Back to Reality

It’s also unrealistic for you to expect your customers to remember more than three things in your marketing message. In fact, it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to even remember three things. After all, your prospects are far less motivated to remember your marketing message than I was to remember my wife’s grocery list.

This was tested in a consumer research study. A group of consumers were shown a car ad that stressed performance exclusively. Six percent of the consumers said that the ad persuaded them to switch to that brand of automobile. Six percent may not sound like much, but that’s wildly successful. It’s tough to persuade people to switch brands from a 30 second ad.

A second, demographically identical group of consumers was shown a different ad for the same car. This ad emphasized performance, but also styling, choice of models, and efficiency. It persuaded no one. Zippo. Nadda.

When you are trying to reach consumers, too many messages will confuse them. Instead of a single clear message, you end up creating a cloud of messages, swirled together. Your message becomes party mix. You may remember one or two of the ingredients, but nothing stands out.

Even worse, you will seldom be able to command all of the prospect’s attention. Just as my thoughts wandered when my wife was reciting her grocery list, the prospect’s thoughts will wander. Just as I was distracted and doing something else while my wife was reciting her list, the prospect will be distracted and doing other things when your message arrives. Just as I waited a while before I was in a position to act, your prospects will likely wait before they act. Just as I got distracted by other products when I was in position to act, your prospects will be distracted by other messages and other products.

On the other hand, when my wife gives me short, simple lists, I manage to remember them. Give your prospects short, simple messages and they might manage to remember them as well.

Cramming multiple messages into marketing communication is a common problem. Marketers are so excited about their offerings and have so many things that they want to tell people about that they try to squeeze as much as possible into a marketing message, failing to communicate much of anything.

Pick one or two things and focus your message on them. Focus.

Matt Michel spoke at HVAC Comfortech 2004 on marketing This rant was solely the opinion of Matt Michel, CEO of the Service Roundtable (, an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at You can contact him directly at [email protected]. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at [email protected].

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.