Why offering "something for everyone" is like offering nothing to anybody – or maybe not

Smoked meat sandwich - Restaurant marketing ideas, tips & strategies
Twenty years ago this is what people thought of when anyone mentioned the Pickle Barrel restaurant. Today, you can still get the corned beef on rye sandwich, but it is just one of many items in a menu that promises to have "something for everyone."

Veteran marketers understand the importance of staying away from “the soft middle”, the phrase I use to describe a positioning in the marketplace that makes you vulnerable to attack from the top and the bottom. 

From the top, you are beaten up by competitors who are much larger, offer lower pricing, own significant market share and enjoy the marketing muscle required to dominate the marketplace.  From the bottom, you are attacked relentlessly by smaller, faster competitors who nibble away at your market share by filling – and dominating – a niche. In short, you are too small to fight off your biggest competitors – and too big to out hustle your smaller competitors.

The same problems exist for any business that decides to offer "something for everyone."   This sounds good because it means you can draw customers from the entire market, not any niche. That has to be good, right? However, it is hard to find a successful business that follows the "something for everyone" positioning. That was the primary marketing objective of department stores, once dominant but now nearly defunct because customers have fled to specialty big box stores that offer better pricing and/or better selection and specialty boutiques that offer exclusivity and better service.

You might even imagine that the “something for everyone” positioning would be limited to small businesses that just don’t know better and have no formal marketing planning process. But that would not be true.  Here in Toronto we have a significant restaurant chain (The Pickle Barrel) that has adopted the "something for everyone" positioning.

I have some comments on that restaurant marketing strategy, but first some background.  About 20 years ago, I was a huge fan of the Pickle Barrel.  Back then it was known for offering the best smoked meat sandwiches in town.  The rest of the menu was made up almost entirely by deli-type food. There were only a few locations, each of which were destination attractions, and they were wildly popular. You expected to line up to get in and the only question was how long would it take.  This was niche marketing at its best and I imagined that this would be a winning marketing strategy that would stand the test of time.

Now let’s fast forward to today. There are many Pickle Barrels, but the menu now offers a wide range of selections, including low-carb and healthy eating choices and a few, but not all, of the old deli favorites.  They advertise on the radio promising “something for everyone”, but the website promises deli-style food.

Is this just an example of traditional media advertising (radio) not being in sync with online advertising or is it just a brand in transition?

My Pavlovian response is that this shouldn't work. There is too much competition in the restaurant sector to have success by promising to be a little of this and a little of that.  But you cannot argue with this fact:  there are more Pickle Barrels today than there were back in the day when they offered deli-style exclusively. So they must be doing a lot of things right.

I’m going to watch this brand and I will make this prediction – they will abandon the something for everyone positioning within the next two years.  I just hope they don’t abandon their Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches.  Still the best after all these years.

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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