Niche marketing is a bona fide and well-tested approach to strategic selling. Some firms have had stellar success building their business around their pursuit of specialized niches. They say it pays to know your niche as well as your name.
Pitchmanship is a term I use to describe how to apply niche marketing principles to pitching yourself in a job search. There are some perilous myths surrounding niche marketing. Similarly, there are dangerous assumptions you steer clear of when you pitch yourself and your credentials for a job.
Myth one: A pitch has to be chic. Don’t assume that organizations are always on the prowl for cutting-edge talent. Some companies posture themselves so low-key that they expect their people to have state-of-the-art skills, but the culture demands they present themselves with “Aw, shucks!’ understatement. Study the organization and the style of the CEO in speeches and articles. It may be impractical to tailor your resume for each and every company you pursue, but your cover letter should reflect some understanding of what the organization is about.
I call this the turtle Wax Lesson because of how this old car-care staple is marketed. Turtle Wax has held a dependable-and sizable-share of the car-wax market for decades. This task is synonymous with something people hat to do. They do it with a product that has a reputations for being harder to apply than others, by exploiting a niche out there of people who literally “love” their cars. What better way to show dedication to your set of wheels than by lavishing care and devotion on the object of one’s affections? Working hard to get a shine that shines through. Romantic stuff, huh?
Turtle Wax-style employers don’t like people with instant, easy solutions. They cherish people who love to apply elbow grease in liberal quantities. And they tend to be skeptical of people who are finished products-people whom they can’t change or polish in their own style.
Myth two: A pitch has to be flashy. There are a lot of companies that are going back to basics. That mantra has become one of the hottest marketing mantras in the present downturn. This doesn’t mean accountants are now being recruited for their skills with an abacus or their ability to chisel Roman numerals onto a slate. In a back-to-basics organization, hard-nosed skeptics are generally rewarded. They find a way to make do with what the organization has. The back-to-basics types often overlap with the Turtle Wax sorts, but not always. Some back-to-basics advocates have no interest at all in working harder. They just don’t want things to cost more.
Myth three: A pitch shouldn’t be too narrow in its demands. Don’t assume that because your niche is larger, it’s better. In marketing, wouldn’t you rather be fighting for half of a 28 percent segment than one-seventh of a 44 percent one?
You may have lost your job as IT director for a mature $200-million company. An offer comes along for a position with the same title at a $100-million company with high growth prospects at half the salary. Many companies, as I point out elsewhere, are skeptical about people willing to take large salary cuts. However, if you really want the job, you can make a convincing case that you’re committed to signing up with a shooting star. After all, doesn’t the fact you’re on the pavement say it all about the risks of being attached to a butchered cash cow?
Myth four: A pitch has to be neat. Although most searches are much more sharply defined these days, not all of them have the sharpness of a surgeon’s scalpel. On the retail sales front, there are liquor stores in the toniest sections on Manhattan, Chicago’s Gold Coast, and Beverly Hills that do as much volume in Chateau Ripple, vintage Wednesday, as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, vintage 1895.
Again, research is king. Some companies are wildly inconsistent in the way they are willing to spend money. The corporate offices could be lavish, but everyone may be expected to travel coach and lunchtime dining could mean a trip to the fast-food court. Learn the profile and so your best to squeeze yourself into the company suit.
Mackay’s Moral: You’ll never please everyone, but you only have to please a few people to get an offer.