This post is a reprise of a Guest shot for my friend Alicia Arenas (follow Alicia on Twitter), and her March Marketing Madness week. I offer it here knowing that focus always wins.

Few things have as much to do with the fabric of our communities as the vision that resides in business leaders.  Certainly, family as well as other centers of value and education top the list; but the perspective that drives innovation, creates new enterprise, and transforms dreams to reality is a big part of what shapes cities and neighborhoods.

But somewhere between the vision that congers greatness and the focus necessary to realize a dream, things often get blurry.

You know the drill.  There is buy-in for a vision; strategic planning is complete; goals and objectives identified; and resources have been ear-marked.  Then something insidious happens: it comes disguised as a bigger, better vision, or a too-good-to-pass-up-all-new “opportunity” that demands immediate attention and resources.  And, though not forsaken (you have far too much invested in it by this point), the original vision never quite looks the same.

This is particularly problematic for the small business and entrepreneurial environment, where leaders tend to be visionary, seeing opportunity at every turn.

At this point it is tempting to resort to an old metaphor: it is impossible to hit the bull’s eye if you take your eye off the target.  But the issue is a bit more multidimensional than that.  For an idea person, the harsh reality is that conceiving and honing a vision plays to our strength; maintaining focus often plays to a weakness.

Warning: this next part is tough for most marketers to hear.

In today’s marketplace good ideas are rarely enough to carry the day.  Better mousetraps and newer/faster/better solutions are conceived on a regular basis.  The few that make it to the market and win are either the byproduct of tenacious focus or pure luck.  Ether works, but you only control one.

One of the most creative and innovative business leaders I know is plagued by his vision.  So grand is his ability to picture what might be, that he is never short of ideas.  But his visionary perspective seems to render him incapable of focusing long enough to nurture an idea to fruition.  By contrast, some of history’s grandest breakthroughs are the coincidental byproduct of tenacious focus  I frequently wonder about the impact my friend’s vision might have had, had he been able to focus.

And just in case you’re tempted to relegate the discussion to innovations or inventions, marketingis an area where focus can seem to be an afterthought.  After all, with sufficient media resources and distribution channels, you can hit virtually any target with your eyes closed.  (Apologies for resorting to the “target” analogy.)  But for the vast majority of main street, marketing plans don’t come backed by the kind of media budget that enables the small business to market blindfolded.

So if focus wins…how do you fight through blurry (or double) vision, and stay focused?  Here are four ideas.

  • Do your due-diligence on the front end.  Know your market.  Even if you don’t have an R&D budget, find a way to test your idea and marketing strategy.  Customer surveys and focus groups are great tools here.
  • Know the metrics.  How much does your vision cost?  How much is it worth?  At what point does it begin producing ROI? What percentage of your budget is earmarked for marketing?  Know the numbers. The perspective gained here helps when it comes to maintaining focus in the face of other opportunities.
  • Establish a timetable.  No business or marketing plan is good enough to be open-ended.  Your plan of action should include a calendar that specifies appropriate dates for evaluation and strategic “tweaks.”  Establish these at the outset, and it’s much easier to avoid playing “hunches.”
  • Practice saying “NO.”  Whether marketing a company, product, or idea, the critical measure of focus is the ability to say “no” to distractions disguised as opportunities.  There will be plenty.  Stay the course, execute your plan.  Chasing multiple opportunities is reactive.  And a reactive strategy almost always seeds leadership and market share to someone else.

There are a number of understandable reasons for the blurring that exists between vision and focus.  For many businesses it is as simple as the fact that a single leader is responsible for both tasks, while the perspective required for each is unique.  So, for all charged with both tasks, separate hats — or more appropriately, goggles — is the order of the day.