• Kimberlee Martin


Ever walk into a retail shop, and feel a bit confused, wondering if the shop is having an identity crisis? I did, recently. I walked into a consignment clothing shop, and found that in addition to offering second-hand clothing, they also offered a line of new $5 jewelry, some candles, and a line of essential oils.

It was a weird mix. I shop consignment out of a desire to be more eco-friendly. But that particular message was mixed at this shop. She sold new jewelry and new candles and new essential oils. So clearly, she doesn’t share my passion.

Which isn’t a problem. Everyone has their own personal priorities, and obviously this shop owner had different priorities than mine. Respect.

So why do I bring this up?

It’s about focus. My marketing philosophy is that a business should have a clear and consistent message. For the owner of that shop, it appears that her message is “thrifty”, since she’s selling second-hand clothing and $5 jewelry. Or maybe her message is “shop local”, as she’s selling candles made by a local artisan, and they are not cheap. Or maybe her message is “be healthy”, with those essential oils.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Her message is unclear.

So what? Why can’t she have different messages?

Because it divides the focus in the shopper’s mind. I love consignment shops, but when you ask me about the best consignment shops in the area, is this particular one going to come to mind? Hmmm…. In my mind, I have that shop categorized as “Consignment/Jewelry/Other Stuff”. So when I think consignment, this shop is less likely to share that space in my brain.

If it was a GREAT consignment shop, plus those other things, I would probably think of it when you asked me. This particular shop was a GOOD consignment shop, but not a great one. If you asked me where to go to buy jewelry, this store would definitely NOT come to mind, since they only offer one brand, and that brand is not everyone’s style. If you asked me where to go to buy a candle, this store would not come to mind, since they only have one type of candle. If you ask me where to go to buy from local artisans, this store would not come to mind since they only have the one artist featured. If you ask me where to go to buy essential oils… well, you see what I’m getting at, I’m sure.

What this shop is lacking is focus. The shopper’s attention is divided by the eclectic mix of products. Now, some shops pull off eclectic, but I would argue that in an effective eclectic shop, there is a single message: “modern minimalist”, or “all things country”, or some other unifying theme. I can live with those messages. When someone asks me what I did this weekend, I can say, “Oh, I found this great little shop that offers a cool mix unique kitchen and cooking items”. But with the consignment shop, all I’m going to say is “I found a consignment clothing shop that also sells candles and jewelry and essential oils”. It’s messy. It doesn’t sound appealing. No one is going to look for this shop based on my description of it.

Does it really matter how people categorize your business in their minds? Only if you want repeat customers!

Does it really matter how they describe your business to others? Only if you want new customers!

How do you fix this problem?


This shop needs to pick a message. They have plenty of options:

  • Be a consignment shop that offers new, low-cost jewelry to complement your second-hand clothing choices.

  • Be a gift shop that offers candles and other gift items, along with second-hand clothing that might be suitable as gifts, such as scarfs.

  • Be a self-care shop that offers essential oils and other self-care items, along with second-hand clothing that could fall into the self-care category, like clothing made with natural fibers.

You see what I mean? They need a unifying theme to pull all of their offerings together.

Here’s a tip: If you can’t describe your business without using lots of commas or “ands”, you lack focus.

What NOT to say:

  • We offer online sales of pencils, vacuum cleaners, and designer hand bags.

  • We are a manufacturer targeting the toy, automotive, and travel industries.

  • We sell gourmet food items and seasonal outdoor gear to individuals and small businesses, mainly in the retail and banking sectors.

What does that even mean? It’s way too much for the average person to wrap their brain around.

If your business sells pencils and vacuum cleaners and designer hand bags, that probably should be three separate brands with three separate identities. Think about Pepsi. Do you buy Pepsi cola and Pepsi Tortilla Chips and Pepsi Iced Tea? No. You buy Pepsi cola and Dorito’s tortilla chips and Lipton Iced Tea. They are all owned by the Pepsi Corporation, but they are all different brands that are marketed separately.

If you’re targeting the toy, automotive and travel industries, I suspect that you are not an expert in any of those areas.

If you’re selling both gourmet food items and seasonal outdoor gear, I think the gourmet food items might somehow be related to the outdoors. Do you make gourmet food items for backpackers to eat on the trail? If not, I’m confused about what you offer.


  • We are an online retailer of high-quality #2 pencils, ideal for standardized testing.

  • We are the leading manufacturer of molded plastic hinges.

  • We sell food items and gear targeted to outdoor enthusiasts.

Much better, right? With these statements, you get a clear picture in your mind of what these businesses do. This allows you brain to effectively categorize the company, tucking that data away for later use. Next time you need a #2 pencil, or someone asks you if you know of a good source for backpacking food, you’ll remember these messages. Win!

But… what about my other offerings?

If I told the owner of that consignment shop that she should drop the essential oils and candles from her shop, I imagine I’d be met with some resistance. After all, she’s probably making money off of them. She could probably show me her sales history, and make a case that both of those items are profitable.

That’s a short-sighted view, though.

While both of those products may be turning a profit, they are not helping to bring in her target customer. As a small business, she needs to focus ALL of her marketing efforts on a single message, and she needs to hammer at it over and over again, until it resonates with just about everyone who walks in the door.

Get rid of those essential oils, and instead, use that space to put in a couple of signs about the eco-friendly nature of second-hand clothing.

Remove the candles, and instead put in a display that explains how consignment clothing is sanitized before hitting the shelf.

Reinvest the time spent in stocking those items on creative displays of the clothing and shoes, to make the offerings as appealing as possible.

In other words, FOCUS on what you do best! Stop watering down your message, and instead, focus on a clear thought that you can communicate consistently, in order to carve out a space in your customers hearts and minds.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a consignment clothing shop or a manufacturer of high-tech circuit boards or a landscaper – the same is true for all small businesses. Clearly defining your message will lock in your place in consumer’s memories.

About the Author

Kimberlee Martin is a Communication Specialist at North Port Marketing with 30 years of business experience. After spending several years working in IT as a software developer, Kim discovered that her favorite part of the job was effectively communicating thoughts between the user and the software. That led her back to school to earn her second degree in communications, where she discovered an affinity for marketing. Her passion is helping small businesses navigate the murky waters of digital communications, including websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

Contact Kim at kmartin@NorthPortMarketing.com.

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