Marketing in the age of specialization – can it hurt to be too specialized?

One of the great things about being in a city like New York and working in Soho in particular is the endless amount of good and great restaurants. The availability for virtually any kind of ethnic or type of cuisine is limitless. New York is hardly unique in this aspect but I can’t think of another city I’ve been to that has more choices when it comes to food.

Restaurants are known for their specialties. Whether it’s a signature dish from a top chef, a new approach from an up-and-comer, or a particular kind of cuisine that the restaurant is known for, people are drawn to the unique aspects of the food and the experience. Consequently they often specialize in a few things that become part of the restaurant’s reputation.

Today, marketing agencies also have a penchant for specialization. The specialization could come in the form of different approaches to email marketing, new ways of media buying, cutting–edge creative solutions, or counter-intuitive marketing strategy – just to name a few examples.

I thought about that while I was having lunch Thursday at a restaurant that has only been open six months in Soho – From the name it is apparent in what area they specialize. When I saw the name I immediately thought about all the delicious options the menu could have for mussels (I love mussels). I was not disappointed in any way.

The restaurant was really attractive, not crowded on a beautiful Thursday afternoon (that concerned me a bit) and the people working there were very pleasant and into the somewhat unique concept. The mussels were great by the way. I started thinking about who I’d bring there and realized that there are many people I know that either don’t eat shellfish or don’t like to eat mussels, (although I will never understand why).

The menu did have a number of non-mussel, and even non-seafood choices – fried chicken, a pasta dish, a steak and a burger. However to the non-mussel lover the name of the restaurant would probably stop them from ever walking through the door. And if you did not know what’s on the menu you would be hesitant to invite a non-mussel lover to join you in your quest for the perfect bi-valve.

So can a restaurant be too specialized? I hope not but it’s possible. Can a marketing agency be too specialized? Again I think it can be as well. I am certain the chef at The Mussel Pot can prepare many things well beyond mussels and in fact would be disturbed if the perception was all he or she could do was make great mussels. Marketing agencies can specialize and have a reputation for a ‘specialty’; however its talent has to go beyond one or two specialties in order for them to best serve their clients.

Specialization isn’t a bad thing, but at the same time it can end up being a pigeon hole from which it is difficult to be extracted.

What do you think?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Best business practices, Customer Experiences, Marketing stuff and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Marketing in the age of specialization – can it hurt to be too specialized?

  1. Nader Ashway says:

    Mark, this is an intriguing topic, and one I’ve contemplated many times over many years in marketing. Historically, marketing agencies have pinged back and forth on this issue…first thinking that “general” was a better approach, as it supplied a catch-all so you wouldn’t have to “turn business away.”

    Then, when EVERYONE was a generalist, someone thought that specializing was the right way to go. Then you had a host of “general specialists,” like direct shops, promotion shops, media shops and later digital shops and social shops.

    Now, it seems – exactly to your point – that the pendulum has swung back. Today’s direct marketing shops ALSO do social and ALSO do digital. But a client (metaphorically) walking by wouldn’t know that by the specialist sign hanging outside.

    It’s time for standards!
    Nice thoughts here – thanks for another thoughtful post.

    Nader Ashway


    • markkolier says:

      Thanks Nader – you are right to note that the pendulum swings back and forth. There’s so much more to know with regard to marketing channels today and to be a real resource for your clients and customers agencies have to be well versed in a broad range of disciplines.


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