Forget the sideshow. What’s the main event?

Sharpen focus

Last weekend, as I sat on the balcony at a friend’s top-floor apartment, nibbling on homemade pizza and watching the sun go down, the conversation turned to doctors’ surgeries. 

“It’s crazy,” said M, an Italian who’s been in the UK for several years. “If you’ve got three things you want to talk about, you have to make three separate appointments. It’s not like that in Italy.”

Indeed. But then, nothing is like anything in any other country – which is one of the absolute delights of travel and its attendant horizon-broadening. 

But he did have a point. I’ve had the experience myself of speaking to my GP and watching him zone out as I try to sneak in a second issue.

Partly, of course, it’s time-driven: they have 10-minute slots (apparently it’s not like that in Italy either) for each patient, so they can’t afford to get sidetracked.

Because nowadays, all doctors’ surgeries have a practice manager, with his or her eye on the bottom line. Get ’em in, get ’em out, hit the numbers. And if patients turn 10 into 20 minutes with a couple of extra issues, those numbers stop looking so good.

So one issue it is.

And if you look at it from another perspective, it does actually make sense. If you limit the appointment to one issue, both doctor and patient are focused on that one thing for the duration of the consultation.

If it’s a question of doing one thing well or two things badly, it’s usually better to opt for the former. Because sharpening your focus always yields better results.

One question at a time

Whenever I’m sketching out a copy plan, I try to zero in on the single most important thing. Which can – I’m the first to admit – turn a briefing call into mini interrogation.

What are we trying to say here? If we only get one message across, what will it be? If we could say it in only one line, what would that line look like?

Often, that means discarding lots of detail, and going for a simple story instead of a complicated one.

Just recently, I asked the client why they wanted their website to actually do. The question was met with momentary silence, and a look of blank incomprehension.

Do? What did I mean? 

What I meant, I went on to explain, was what was the ultimate aim of the website. To make people get in touch or set up a preliminary meeting? Sign up for the newsletter? Learn more about services? Was it to back up a prospecting call, or a meeting? Was it a first point of contact, or were there other avenues? 

So much for the single purpose (or at least, the single most important one). 

What about the message? This was a niche service, so was it really necessary – given the lack of competition – to have a key differentiator? Or did having a few specialised competitors mean that it was necessary to dig deeper to seem more expert in a field of experts?

Then there were the readers. Were they in the know, which meant we could skip the overview? Or would prospects have to be educated about why they needed such a highly specialised service?

The call was long and pretty detailed, but we stayed focused on a single issue, and its related questions: the aim of the site, the message it had to communicate, who it was talking to and what it was saying.

And in doing so, we managed to whittle down a complex subject with a potentially multifaceted message into a simple story with a direct approach.

Sharp and sharper still

So how can you sharpen your marketing focus? What could you simplify, or break down into more manageable tasks? Do your products or services fall into groups? What about your target audience? Are you segmenting both customers and prospects and tailoring the message for both?

We may all balk at the one-issue-per-consultation approach that GPs take nowadays, but I think we probably reluctantly admit that it makes sense, even if it’s inconvenient. Solve one issue at a time with ruthless focus and total concentration, then move on to the next. 

Maybe those practice managers have a point – though I think I’ll avoid mentioning it to the Italians next time we find ourselves on that sundrenched balcony. Somehow I don’t think it would go down as well as the Nutella pizza we had last weekend for dessert.

Yes, you read that right. Nutella. Pizza.

Buon appetito.