I am in the lucky position of being friends and business partners with a very sharp, very forward-thinking researcher and marketer by the name of Matt Tharp. Matt is currently focused on his new blog BreedLikeHabits, where he will be focused on writing about behavioral analysis with respect to its applications in internet marketing. In a recent conversation, he imparted some anecdotal wisdom to me concerning his experience with broad versus narrow marketing, in which he said:
"Marketing is easier to ramp up when you know exactly who/what you're targeting. For a long time, web companies in the post-bubble era have been marketing to "people looking for product x", which has worked OK for a lot of those businesses, but it has rarely allowed them to create a more proactive marketing approach until they started focusing on one (profitable) target audience. At that point, they are finally able to begin marketing to decision-makers and are able to grow faster.
I've worked at two companies that have tried the broad and the narrow audience approach. One has always effectively done vertical segment and persona marketing, which allowed them to focus the message and content. The company that focused on the narrow audience approach started the same year as the company that followed the large-audience approach and grew to essentially 30x the size in the same period."
Its an interesting and telling anecdote if two companies, presumably with similar market sizes, would have so much different outcomes by using two predominantly different marketing approaches. Certainly there could be other factors, but Matt's anecdote lines up with what a lot of other folks have been pointing out: if you want to be successful in growing your business you first have to know who your audience really is.
If you're not following Matt, you should. He has a lot of things going on under the hood at BreedLikeHabits that will be surfacing soon.