Fat Man. Red Suit.

We first published this piece back in 2007. Since then, a lot has changed. (My daughter who was seven years old back then is now applying to colleges and my son who was two is now as tall as I am!) But some things remain eternal. Like the joy in a child’s face when he first sees that Santa visited his house. Or (wait for it) the value of target marketing. So join us for a walk down memory lane as we watch how one of “the great ones” does his stuff.

He’s baaaaack . . . . !

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just sit home like Scrooge, you can’t open your eyes or ears without seeing or hearing him. Statistics show that we’re exposed to 3,000 advertising messages per day. And this time of year, it seems like all of them feature that familiar jolly fat guy in his familiar festive red suit.

You probably just think of Santa Claus as a holiday icon. But have you thought about him as a business guru

Back in 1990, Wess Roberts wrote a bestseller called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. You probably don’t want to hold your clients’ children hostage to consolidate control over them. And you can’t pay your staff in plunder. So in a more festive spirit, I offer “Business Secrets from the North Pole.”

1. Target Marketing

Our marketing philosophy boils down to this: target specific markets, then give them a unique reason for doing business with you and not your competition.

Santa offers one product: Christmas presents. Specializing lets him own that market. You don’t see Santa handing out candy at Halloween, or delivering eggs at Easter.

And Santa serves one broad, enthusiastic market: children.

Marketing guru Gary Halbert was famous for telling clients to imagine they were opening a restaurant — then asking what would best guarantee success. Low prices? Great food? Special sauce?

Nope, nope, and nope. Try a starving crowd of customers! Markets don’t get more “starving” than children on Christmas morning!

But Santa doesn’t stop there. He slices and dices that market, and creates distinct brands for them.

General Motors has done this for years, marketing Chevys to the working man, Pontiacs to wannabe hotrodders, Cadillacs to high rollers, and Buicks to affluent but more conservative (read: slower) drivers. Santa does the same thing, appearing as himself here in the United States and Canada, Father Christmas in Great Britain, Pere Noel in France, Babbo Natale in Italy, Joulupukki in Finland, and Kaledu Senelis in Lithuania.

Santa doesn’t try to be all things to all people. Neither should you. Pick your markets and serve them well. Your clients may not be as happy as kids on Christmas morning. But they won’t leave you for the Santa down the street.

2. Time Management

Most of us think we work too much. No, let me correct myself. Most of us do work too much. Our All-Stars tell us they typically work 40-60 hours per week — and want to cut 10 or more of those hours out.

Santa Claus works one night a year. One night! This cat is leveraged. Forget about hiring associates at $40/hour and billing them out at $100. Santa lets the elves do all the work — then hops into the sleigh to claim all the credit!

(Santa’s not the only one to figure this out. Willy Wonka does the same thing, importing Oompa-Loompa “guest workers” from the small Pacific island of Loompaland. The Oompa-Loompas make the chocolate, and Willy takes the credit.)

Creating systems and managing staff aren’t easy. But these are crucial to moving from a personal practice that depends entirely on you to a real business that flourishes without you.

3. Exclusivity

As we discussed, Santa targets a hungry crowd. But he doesn’t serve everyone. He brings presents to the good little boys and girls. If you’re a rotten little stinker, you get coal in your stocking! (Or, “if you talk to your mother in that tone again, I’m taking back the iPod before Rudolph’s nose stops glowing, pal!” — Keith.)

We tell you to segment your clients into an “A” group (those who love you, gladly pay your fees, and refer new business), a “B” group (those who can become “A” clients with a little care and feeding), and a “C” group (those you’d just as soon do without). How liberating would it be to give your “C” clients a lump of coal this season?

I love my 7-year-old, Margaret. She’s bright, spirited, and talkative, but she doesn’t always listen to her mom and me. Usually that’s a problem. But this time of year, we just have to ask her if the elves are watching to get her immediate attention. Santa’s positioning works!

Do your clients think they have to behave for you? Are you managing your relationships with them, or do you let them manage you?

Several of our All-Stars are considering asking clients to actually apply to do business with them. Can you imagine how that transforms the relationship? We’ll bring you more on those efforts as they develop.

I’ve had more fun than usual writing this week’s Briefs. But please don’t think I’m not as serious as ever. Santa Claus offers real lessons for you and your practice. And you don’t have to be fat or wear a silly suit to use them.