How to Overcome the 'One-Size-Fits-All' Marketing Trap Any approach claiming to be for everyone is either broadly general to the point of obviousness, or will lack even close to the necessary nuance needed to adequately provide direction.

By Brian Honigman

This story originally appeared on


People (especially business minded folks) crave simple, clear-cut answers.

When we are presented with a problem, the last thing we want is abstract principles that require thoughtful, diligent application. What we're looking for is a prescription not a lifestyle change.

This desire for quick-fix formulas is why there are reams of blog posts and articles touting "the definitive guide" or "the keys to success" for digital marketing as if there could ever possibly be such a one-size-fits-all solution. I've also fallen into this trap before as both a reader and a writer in the past.

Any approach claiming to be for everyone is either broadly general to the point of obviousness, or will lack even close to the necessary nuance needed to adequately provide direction.

The sad truth is that there are almost no "simple steps" or "weird tricks" for successful marketing.

Marketing is a utilitarian discipline, so the only rule of thumb is that you do whatever works.

This post will show you how to go about discovering the unique strategy that works for your business, and how to avoid the tempting mistake of the "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Something's Gotta Give

As I mentioned above, the reason that formulaic approaches for marketing tend not to work is that there are simply too many factors that dictate the appropriate course of action.

Sure there are best practices, but these do not constitute an actionable strategy. Guidelines like these are way down the schematic totem pole in the area of tactical consideration.

While tactics are important, blindly following a set of logistical steps without an overarching strategy or purpose will set you on a frustrating, grinding course towards failure.

The reason that it is so tough to prescribe strategy is that there are two major points of departure, where the number of possible variables to account for dovetails into an unmanageable mess.

These two areas, whose proper consideration requires a more nuanced and custom approach, are Brand Purpose and Target Audience.

Any sound marketing strategy must be tailored to these two key elements. General guidelines might be useful in providing tactical support for such a strategy, but the insights needed to inform those tactics can only come from your end.

Putting Purpose First

The first (and most crucial) step to building out a solid, coherent marketing strategy is to pin down your brand's core, driving purpose and hard-code that message into your organizational DNA.

By "Starting with Why" you will be able to begin building out a marketing strategy that serves to reinforce your key message.

Pragmatic understanding of different channels or approaches in general terms is one component of crafting a strong marketing plan. However, the ability to qualitatively analyze all of these components and decide not just on whether they are "right" in the abstract but to determine whether they are "right for you" is absolutely critical to success.

One big reason that tactical directives fall short is that their barometers for success do not reflect what it is you actually want to get done.

Following an "Ultimate Guide to Facebook" might show you how to get more likes on your posts, but if you don't have a thorough and accurate understanding of why you want to get those likes in the first place and how likes contribute as a means towards this larger end, you are running in circles.

Hitting certain numbers is certainly important, but making sure you're looking at the right indicators and directing your energy towards efficient, converging goals is paramount.

One way to discover your goals is to further develop an understanding of the audience your brand is serving.

Know Thy Audience

As you begin to flesh out your brand understanding, another key flaw in the "one-size-fits-all" logic will emerge. Whenever anyone sets out to write one of these comprehensive plans, they're key concern is making sure they don't forget to include something.

Covering all of your bases when it comes to building out a marketing strategy might seem like the right approach; but in fact, sometimes choosing what to exclude is equally important.

In a popular previous article, I relayed the story of Beyonce's approach to social media. The most striking element of Beyonce's web presence is (ironically) where she is not present.

According to her social media manager:

Currently, we don't use Twitter at all. It is a personal choice. I think as an artist, Beyoncé really prefers to communicate in images. It's very hard to say what you want to say in 140 characters.

This insight (which has clearly been working) runs counter to nearly every "one-size-fits-all" marketing guide available and that's precisely why it is so insightful.

Part of discovering your brand voice is also discovering the group that will be most receptive to what you have to say.

If Beyonce is a visual communicator, the audience she is after will be congregating on a visual platform.

Knowing your brand voice and mission will lead to a better understanding of who is most likely to respond and to listen.

Once this insight starts to become clear, it won't be much of a leap to decide where you should be investing time and energy and (just as importantly) where you shouldn't.

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Blanket guides to social, content or any other kind of marketing might teach you a lot of factual information, but will do little to prepare you to apply this information practically.

Knowing the ideal length of a Facebook post or the perfect posting frequency for Twitter will not provide you with the wisdom to judge whether or not these channels work for you or how they might fit in to your broader marketing strategy.

Backing into a strategy that works will require introspection into your brand and blending that understanding with general knowledge of best-practices.

As the journalist Miles Kington famously quipped "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

A comprehensive, one-size-fits-all guide to fruit might have missed that.

For more insights on how to be a better marketer, sign up for Brian Honigman's weekly newsletter.

Wavy Line
Brian Honigman

Content Marketing Consultant & CEO of Honigman Media

Brian Honigman is a New York City-based content marketing consultant and CEO of Honigman Media, a consultancy offering both content strategy and content creation services. He is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and other publications.

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