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Marketing Strategy

In the movie City Slickers Jack Palance’s character tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is one thing. Crystal, of course, is left to discover what that one thing in life is on his own, but I believe the same is true for business. I believe the most effective marketing strategies, the one’s that I call real-life marketing strategies, hold together by focusing relentlessly on one simple thing.

That one simple thing can be an idea, like providing shoes to kids in need around the world as Tom’s One for One Movement does, focusing on simple, yet stunning design, as many people feel Apple does, or building a business by intentionally keeping things simple, in both products and processes, as I believe 37Signals does.

In all cases though, these companies accomplish many, many things, but do so first and foremost through the realization of one single-minded purpose. This single minded purpose is the filter for every business decision, hiring decision, product decision, and marketing campaign – and it often starts by simply realizing and capturing who the company is being at some point in time – the here’s what we really stand for moment.

Of course, finding and committing to a real-life marketing strategy – the one thing – isn’t enough. You’ve also got to find a way to make it part of the DNA of the organization. You’ve got find symbols and stories and metaphors that allow every part of your business ecosystem embrace the strategy.

There’s an article in this month’s issue of strategy + business magazine titled Eat Your Peas: A Recipe for Culture Change. The article chronicles Jamie Oliver’s (Food Revolution) struggle to change the eating culture in a small community and how he finally breaks through by focusing on one simple and digestible theme – peas.

Previous attempts to change behavior and implement his ideas around healthy eating met with fierce resistance until he made the entire strategy all about embracing eating peas. This “one thing” became the metaphor for the entire culture shift.

In this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I continue a solo discussion on this idea of real-life marketing strategy. Some of you may have guessed by my seeming infatuation with this topic that I may be working on something bigger related to this theme and you would be right.

I’m convinced there’s a book worth writing on the idea of creating real-life marketing strategy, the kind that amplifies why a business does what it does, the kind that demonstrate how a strong culture can become a powerful strategy, and the kind that suggests anyone, by embracing this idea of “one thing” can create a stunning brand.

So, tell me about companies that you think have this “one thing” down. Or, tell me what your one thing is and how you communicate it.

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • love this insight! I guess if you can capture your focus in just one word, it becomes even more powerfull (and better to understand for your followers/buyers/customers/etc).

    Apple: touch
    Google: find (search is not sufficient I think)
    Zappos: service
    Springwise: inspire

    • Yes, I’ve always loved the one word game – I strive for Duct Tape Marketing to stand for practical

  • yinka olaito

    Really spot on. Without understanding of purpose and right team, every effort will fail

    • Thanks – I think you’ve also got to understand how to package and communicate purpose as well.

  • cherylpickett

    Awesome and very timely for me! Looking forward to what’s to come.

  • Al Pittampalli

    Amazing post, John. One single laser like purpose is what cuts through all the clutter and ultimately works in spreading an idea. 30 years ago, Trout and Reis argued that companies have to focus on just one word. One word that they could own inside the mind of their prospects. That’s all we get…a chance to own one word.

    • Thanks Al – funny thing is it’s harder to own one word than it is an entire bucket full!

  • I really like the idea of your one thing.  My company’s one thing would have to be inspiration to have the best life possible.  

  • Scott

    Really good point and I have some appreciation for the difficulty in trying to distill something down to its core element – its tough!  Beyond that though is the caution not to let the focus become too narrow as to the business you are in as there is a reason there are no buggy whip manufactureres anymore. 

  • Scott

    Really good point as I have some appreciation for the difficulty involved in trying to distill something down to its core – it’s tough!  One caution though is not to let the narrow focus turn into blinders regarding the business you are in as there is a reason there are no buggy whip manufacturers around.

  • Alex

    like the concepts you discussed – they all make sense (very practical as you
    suggest). Your discussions on USP have also been very welcome.

    this for the service based organisation is tough. What makes it even harder is
    when the service is a nuisance / inconvenience for the client i.e. it is
    something they have to do as it is required by law / regulators.  Does this result simply in price being the only
    driver?  What marketing options are open in this sort of situation?

  • Powerful stuff John! I love the examples used here. With my last company, I didn’t understand this well enough and it led to our demise. This one, we are focused on one thing and to do it well; providing affordable websites to the trades. We’re always defining and refining this strategy and it’s interesting to see how it’s all coming together; it actually defining itself better than we originally thought. Thank so much John for this very worthy post – always, always the very best from you!
    Much kindness,

  • Awesome post. Thanks!

    Being from Sweden and all, I immediately think of IKEA – their “one thing” being furniture that can be packed in flat boxes and assembled by the customers themselves.

  • jlriesco

    I totally agree with you. I always recommend restaurateurs and other small business owners to have a single minded focus on their customers. Bend backwards to please them (even if they are not very nice) and keep them always as their main asset. 

    Disgruntled customers are more way costly (in terms of the damage that they can cause via Social Media comments and reviews) than any compensation that you can give to your customers to amend a mistake or just to make them happy.

    Thanks for the post,
    Jose L Riesco

  • The first company that comes to mind is Tesla Motors, the electric carmaker. Their “one thing” is taking an unknown/foreign technology (electric vehicles) and making it fun, sexy, and cool. They did this by creating the first truly desirable, beautiful electric vehicle, making sure it works really really well, and it even extends to their store strategy, which actually borrows a page from Apple with their simple aesthetic. (In fact they even stole away the head of Apple retail strategy to design the Tesla stores). 

  • Well said John and I have listened to it a couple of times because the points you make are worth repeating. Even though this should be second nature it is useful to get reminded of the fundamentals every now and then.

  • Probably been done a bit, but I think that TOMS Shoes fits these characteristics really well. The unique story around Blake Mycoskie’s holiday to Argentina where he saw children with no shoes, starting selling shoes based on those worn by Argentina farmers, and the 1 for 1 philanthropic model of giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. Clearly an innovative and differentiated model, tight company culture that attracts staff, simple core model that for the most part they seem to be sticking with.