Years ago, I shared an Uber with another agency president from the airport to a business conference. It was a random interaction, just a coincidence that we were on the same flight to the same place.

A year or two after that, I ran across a sales executive from his team at an evening mixer for the local biotech industry. I was there doing research on positioning for my agency and the sales exec was there looking for clients. This was odd because I didn’t realize the agency specialized in biotech and also because most agencies don’t have salespeople out at evening mixers.

I joined the Rotary Club in Portland last month and was, again, surprised to discover the agency president as a member of their leadership board.

Yesterday, I was doing research on PPC competitors and did a quick lookup on the agency and found that they advertised heavily in the Shopify market.

This morning I looked at their website and found no mention of biotech or Shopify.

What is going on with their customer acquisition strategy?

I would draw two inferences:

1) They’re beasts at generating business through networking.
2) They’re employing what I call a hydra positioning strategy.

Mainstream thinking is that businesses should niche and specialize. From a solely marketing perspective, the primary benefit of this is to increase relevance to potential customers.

Hydra is a generalist strategy where you are somewhat amorphous to people who encounter you directly while also having heads in niches that make you appear specialized.

At the Biotech mixer, that sales person appeared focused on healthcare and startups. In the PPC search results, the agency looks like a Shopify business. But if you go to the website, the agency looks like a generalist digital agency.

Hydra enables you to be relevant in a wide variety of contexts, getting the benefits of niching without paying the cost of excluding business. Additionally, your business’s fortune is not tied to the niche’s trajectory. If the niche tanks, you lose that head and grow a new one.

It’s not going to work for many kinds of businesses, because inherent to the marketing strategy is a need for flexibility. Your business has to have some range. But there are plenty of business models that can accommodate that and benefit from the upside.

How effective is it? Well, this example agency has been on the Fortune 5000 and in the top 50 of Portland’s fastest growing companies for several years.

Hail hydra! 😉

Featured image is a haunting 19th century painting of the hydra by Gustave Moreau – provided by The Yorck Project (2002) and used under public domain.