Seth Godin’s recent bestselling book, This Is Marketing, advocates a different way to think about marketing.

He challenges the traditional (and aggressive) approach of creating a product or service, identifying a “target” audience, and then pushing what you’re selling into people’s lives.

Godin believes marketing can do better.  That we can—driven by a sense of primary purpose—become a positive source of change. And we can bring about this change by truly understanding the people we seek to influence.

But you cannot go about changing everyone. Instead, you need to change someone. And this means defining your smallest viable market and getting super specific about the change you want to bring about.

Specificity takes courage. You can’t hide behind bland messaging. Or use spray and pray tactics for your largest possible audience.

Specificity calls for precision and hard work. It means standing up for something, understanding the customer problem, and figuring out what makes you indispensable.

The relentless pursuit of mass will make you boring, because mass means average…it requires you to offend no one and satisfy everyone.

Engaging your smallest viable market also asks for higher levels of empathy. It means crafting stories that your audience wants to hear—told in their language.

Instead of saying “you can choose anyone, and we’re anyone”, the marketer can begin with an audience worth serving, begin with their wants and dreams… 

A good example of these concepts in action can be seen in how Celonis created a $1bn firm using handwritten letters.

Celonis, a German technology company, wanted to get the attention of some of the world’s biggest companies. Instead of a broad-brush marketing campaign the company defined their smallest viable market, honed down their unique value, and engaged senior execs with highly personal handwritten letters.

Their hypothesis was that a more personal approach would gain much more traction than an easy-to-delete email or junk mail.

It worked.

Celonis secured meetings with some of the largest companies in Europe.  And eight years on it boasts customers that include BMW, Exxon-Mobile, General Motors, L’Oreal, Siemens, Uber and Vodafone.

How would your marketing activities change if you thought first about your smallest viable market? What would you write in a letter to the CEOs on your dream logo list?