Calling someone a “jack of all trades” is just a nice way of saying they aren’t great at anything. Conversely, when a brand is considered a “jack of all trades” it means their message is diluted and the company’s position is unclear. That kind of brand ambiguity can severely hinder an organization’s ability to differentiate itself amongst the competition. Brands are like knives; the sharper (more focused) the blade, the easier it is to cut out (own) a slice of the pie (market).
Take the fast food industry, for example. Everywhere you look in the space, companies have made their marks by fixating on a single segment of the business. McDonald’s started with hamburgers, Taco Bell with tacos and Subway with sandwiches. And in each case, because of this laser focused approach to brand segmentation, when we think of those particular food products, we also think of those brands. By concentrating on and excelling at one aspect of an industry, two bodies (the brand and the category) eventually become one.
Subway exemplifies this concept perhaps better than any other fast food chain. By specializing in sandwiches for over 50 years, the company has become synonymous with a single (and very profitable) type of food. Today, ‘Subway’ and ‘sandwiches’ are one in the same and the financial results speak for themselves. The brand’s unwavering focus has given the company clear market leadership in a $20 billion industry. As of 2017, Subway owned over 75% of the sub sandwich market, while serving its famous ‘foot longs’ in 46,000 locations around the world (in comparison, McDonald’s has ‘only’ 37,000 stores globally).
In a world littered with choices, focus is the quickest and easiest way for a brand to break through. Those that attempt to be all things to all people, inevitably fail to become anything to anyone. Jack and his trades are dead, long live focus.