You can’t be all things to all people. Frankly, you can’t even be all things to all of your customers and prospects. We all intuitively know this to be true, yet the way most B2B (business-to-business) marketing is done ignores this truth. Instead of speaking to a core audience, businesses all too often take a general approach with their content marketing.

A recent newsletter from Content Marketing Institute (link to register) did a great job of driving this point home. In it, founder Joe Pulizzi talks about a podcast episode in which Jonah Kheri interviews Keith Olbermann. As you are likely aware, Olbermann is one of the people credited with making ESPN’s SportsCenter such a huge success. The interesting thing about the discussion on the podcast, however, is his take on why no “generalist” sports show on any other network has been successful:

“As soon as you start talking about baseball, you will lose the portion of the audience that wanted to hear about basketball. There are simply too many other options to choose from. Those consumers will just tune you out and go find a basketball show.”

The point Pulizzi makes from Olbermann’s observation is that generalist content, in any industry, simply does not work anymore. There are too many other options vying for an individual’s attention, and the second you stop speaking their language, they’re gone.

So, what to do? The answer is to make the difficult decision of no longer talking to part of (what you thought was) your audience. Once you make that decision, you can follow a four-step process to get on the right track:

1. Define your audience

The first step – once you’ve taken the proverbial first step of admitting you have a problem – is to define your audience. This is incredibly important for any business, yet all too often it is either skipped or short-changed because business owners assume they know their audience well enough already. Even if you fall into that category, what is there to lost by going through the exercise of getting to know your audience a little better? It is amazing the insights you can gain from taking a business’s in-house customer data and enhancing it with third-party commercial data.

2. Segment your audience

Once you have the data, you can analyze it to segment your audience. By performing a statistical analysis, certain traits begin to surface as common to groups of people within your audience. Suddenly, that audience a business owner thinks of as “mostly men over the age of 45 who are CFOs” becomes distinct groups of “men age 30-45 with graduate degrees, married, tech-savvy, in middle management” and “men age 45-65 with undergraduate degrees, married, tech-challenged, job title: controller.” Armed with this information, you can more efficiently purchase lists, market, and network.

3. Trim the fat

Here is the really difficult part. After segmenting the audience, it’s time to determine which segments you just aren’t that into anymore. Yes, it would be nice if you could stay in a relationship with all of your audience groups, but there are only so many hours in the day and so many dollars in the marketing budget. If, for example, you discover the younger of the male audience segments above – that you thought was your main audience – is actually a high-volume but low-profitability segment, STOP TALKING TO THEM.

Unlike a real relationship, you don’t have to break up with them or do the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” routine. You just have to stop chasing them.

4. Speak to the core

Finally, now that the audience is identified and trimmed, you can start creating content that speaks directly to your core audience – those people who will actually make the decision on behalf of their company to buy what you are selling. The type of content – from the voice, to the delivery channel, to the way you frame your product or service – you create for your core audience is very different from the content you would create for a general audience. Because of that, your message will resonate with the people you need to be talking to, and that means you get – and hold – their attention.

Pulizzi puts forward a very simple formula that summarizes all of this:

Too general = can’t be relevant = can’t be the leading provider of a particular niche = can’t build a loyal audience

If you speak to a general audience, you make yourself general. Or, to use a more applicable term, you make yourself generic. If all you want is to be exactly like the market leaders (and laggards) in your industry, by all means, be generic. But go all the way with it. Stop marketing altogether and sell your product or service at a deep discount. Just be aware that if you go that route, you’ll be irrelevant, a follower, and have no audience loyalty.

Or, take the time to really get to know your audience and start building a relationship with the ones you want to do business with – and who want to do business with you.

That’s what brands do. So ask yourself, “Do I want to be a brand, or a generic?” If your answer is brand, make the decision today to stop marketing like a generic.