Propulsion tim-williams-50
March 8, 2011 | By Tim Williams

Welcome to the age of the specialist.  Mass markets have given way to very specialized, hyper-fragmented markets.  Mass media is fragmented into literally millions of specialized media, with hundreds of thousands of new channels being created every day.  Mass audiences can now be segmented not only down to the zip code but to the household – even with television, thanks to the new technology arriving soon to a set-top box near you.

The general stores of the last century have given way to specialty retailers that sell just one category.  “Deep” has replaced “broad” as a selling strategy.  Think Petsmart (just pet products) or Home Depot (just building products).  The fastest-growing, most profitable media are the specialized channels and titles. The History Channel (vs. CBS) or Dwell (vs. Time). 

If you want to get paid more, know more

As Wired editor and economist Chris Anderson writes in The Long Tail, every year there are fewer and fewer mass market “hits” – fewer blockbuster movies, best-selling books, top albums.  Instead, the interest and energy of the population is dispersed among a vast array of niche market films, books, and bands. 

These same dynamics have been at play in businesses of every kind – including professional services.  Firms serving the “general market” are in decline.  The firms with a clear, targeted business strategy are growing.  Of the top 100 agencies in America, the vast majority are now specialized in a particular service area or market.  These firms understand that what they’re really selling is not service, but rather expertise.  They know that it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, but you can be expert in something. And expertise is clearly what marketers need in today’s complex marketplace.

deep vs. shallow

The firms that earn “best agency” accolades from the trade press are mostly specialized firms, not “full service, integrated agencies.”  Included in Adweek’s line-up of “Agencies of the Year” is Breakfast, a firm that “hacks hardware” to create innovative devices to solve marketing problems.  Also named is Buddy, who specializes in helping brands thrive on Facebook and Outcast, a reputation management firm focused on tech.  And then there's Anomaly, a firm that practically defines what it means not to be a traditional agency. 

If you want your clients to value you more, become more valuable.  Choose an area of focus that allows you to be paid for what you know, not just what you do; your head, not just your hands.  In the sea of sameness, be a lighthouse.    

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