Lake Food & Vexatious Tenants: Staying True to Your Marketing Niche

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How can cheap oatmeal cookies help you build your brand?

While we never had a boat of our own when I was a kid, we always seemed to have a friend with a boat on the lake. A half dozen times or more during the summer, we’d go spend the day with them — cruising around, jumping off cliffs, learning to water ski and seeing how long we could stay on an inner tube being dragged through the turbulent wakes. One thing was definitely not on our minds: nutrition.

It’s not like my childhood was filled with junk food, but lake days were different. Being on the water is fraught with uncertainty. Choppy waters could spell losing your lunch — before or after you had a chance to eat it. Loading up on snacks for the day, we looked for cheap, empty calories — something that would ease your hunger but that you wouldn’t be too bummed about if a hard turn tossed your cooler overboard.

This meant buying bargain-brand everything. 50-cent packs of cookies. Cheap, greasy chips. White bread that was soggy even before you took it out of the bag. Mystery lunch meat and cheese-flavored “singles” that probably couldn’t be legally marketed as “cheese.” Basically, nothing featured eye-level in the grocery store. We endearingly referred to this assortment of forgettable sustenance as “lake food.” 

Bargain Brands Have No Marketing Identity Crisis

While name brands dot the aisles of grocery stores with colorful packaging and catchy slogans, bargain brands typically have none of this. You’ll never see a commercial for “Best Choice Potato Chips” or “Mountain Lightning Soda.” Bargain brands know they are cheap and market to people just looking for some cheap stomach filler. The marketing strategy behind their packaging is one of transparency — to say “we know we’re not fancy, but we’re cheap and we’ll stave off your hunger for a while.” This is a niche and messaging they’ve owned for decades.

Staying True to Your Marketing Niche

The emergence of the internet, as well as global shipping, has basically made the planet your potential market. While powerful, this has a tendency to make marketing strategists stray from their brand message and niche.

Deciding the personality and tone of your brand as well as your target demographic can help you focus your efforts on this audience in particular. Trying to be everything to everyone is a sure-fire way to be very little to very few. 

Marketing Lessons From the Landlord

I used to rent a house from some good friends of mine. These fellas owned most of the houses on my street. Despite owning about a dozen houses, they do a fantastic job of maintaining the homes, being prompt on repairs, and keeping out the riff-raff. All tenants are carefully vetted. It’s been the best rental experience I’ve ever had. 

One day, one of the landlords was over at my house doing some routine maintenance. He stepped out for a minute to speak with a man who was interested in renting a home nearby that had been sitting empty for a few months. The man was full of demands and questions.

“Will I get access to the detached garage?” 

“Not yet. I’m using it as a workshop while I fix up the rest of the houses.” 

“When will I get access to it?” 

“I can’t tell you for certain. I have a lot of updates to do.” 

“Just a guess?” 

“I don’t want you to get your hopes up.” 

“Well, I’m going to need access to that garage.” 

“Well, you know what — maybe this isn’t the house for you. Have a good day.” He walked away, leaving the man standing on the driveway.

The landlord returned to my house as though nothing had happened. I was blown away at his ability to tell off a potential tenant — someone who was ready to sign on the dotted line even at the guestimation of when the garage would be usable. I asked him how he was so cooly able to do so, especially since the house had sat vacant for a few months.

“Just because someone pays rent on time doesn’t make them a good tenant. He’s just not the kind of tenant I want.”  

While he may have seemed like a jerk to the would-be tenant, the landlord was simply staying true to his niche — people looking for a beautiful place to live with an easy-going yet thorough landlord. At first, it wasn’t unusual to see houses remain vacant for a few months before they had decided on the right tenant. These days, tenants stick around for many years — even willing to pay higher-than-average rent because they know their landlords are exceptional and their neighbors are ideal.


What the landlord and a sleeve of “lake food” cookies have in common is they have no identity crisis. They’re not trying to make everyone happy. They have a particular product designed for a specific consumer. Not only does this allow them to remain true to their target audience, but it will enable them to simplify their marketing efforts. In addition to the product or service they’re selling, they’re also selling the entire no-frills experience that corresponds with it. This focused approach removes ambiguity and allows them to easily define success. 

"You’ll never be able to serve everyone, which is comforting since you’re less likely to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen." - Seth Godin

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