We were headed to the Bruce Springsteen concert last Friday and were talking about music styles.  After having problems describing the style of a band, someone said “Maybe that’s their problem, they don’t have a style.  I guess you have to at least be something before people start to notice you.”

Good marketing advice, actually.  BE. SOMETHING!  This marketing consultant translates that into: be easy for people to understand; have a niche.  Don’t be in the “muddy middle.” 

Whether you’re a band, restaurant, lawyer or manufacturer, be something that’s easy for people to categorize.  Cheap Italian food.  Small business marketing consultant.  High-end landscape contractor with great designs.  Cheap, fast printer.

What are you?  If you start your answer with “Um. . .” or it takes you a paragraph to explain you need to do some thinking, and maybe some work, focusing your image (brand, for those who must).

You want to avoid the muddy middle at all costs.  Why: people tend to make snap judgements about companies as a defense against the avalanche of marketing messages thrown at them; if it isn’t easy to do that, if they can’t quickly sort you into a category, you fade away. 

Can you name another MP3 player other than the iPod?  The number two MP3 player: Zune.  Think about your suppliers, the companies you buy from.  You probably can name a few in each category.  Why?  I’ll guess because they have a distinct “place” in their industry: biggest, innovative, best customer service, whatever.  All the rest?  You aren’t sure, are you?!  They’re in the muddy middle.

Think about your industry.  Describe your competitors and where you fall.  Do you have a distinct place, a niche?  Better yet, ask your customers.  Can they describe you in relation to your competitors?  If not, you have some work to do.