The conventional wisdom is that some subjects are dangerous to your business (like touching the electrified "third rail" of the subway): politics, religion, etc. But is that true, or might you use these to carve out a sub-niche that you can dominate?

If you've visited Ray Edwards' blog recently, you know that Christianity isn't just something that comes up from time to time -- it has become the core of his message -- even when he's talking about marketing.

At the other end of the spectrum, for a while, I was seeing tweets from Michel Fortin about subscribing to atheist channels on YouTube.

As an example for politics, Ryan Healy has been linking to "conspiracy theory" articles about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Are these people alienating big chunks of their target markets? If so, is it a mistake, a willing sacrifice for what they believe, or a good way to increase their uniqueness and connect with the part of the market that agrees with them?

Whether embracing so-called "third rail" issues is a good idea depends on several factors:

  • The size of your target market. If it's big enough that you can afford to alienate a lot of it, then it may be worth it to create a stronger connection with everyone else. If it's barely big enough to support your business, then you can't afford to niche down smaller.
  • How strongly people identify with your position. If you're going to alienate a big chunk of your market, but those who you don't turn off don't really care about the cause you've taken up, then what's the point?
  • The popularity of your position. If you've taken a fringe position that only 5% of your market agrees with, that 5% had better be big enough to support you! Of course, the smaller the group who identify with your position, the more powerful the connection with them you'll likely make, because they probably don't see many people standing up for them.
  • The level of competition. If you don't have much competition, there's no need to sacrifice part of your target market in order to stand out. If competition is heavy, more drastic measures may be necessary.

Of course, in the end, the deciding factor may simply be how strongly you feel about the issue. If it's important enough to you, you may choose to talk about it even if it doesn't make business sense. Sometimes, it feels like ethics is a third-rail topic in internet marketing, and that taking a hard line on ethics does me more harm than good. But I feel strongly enough about it that I'm willing to take that risk.

Reader Comment:
jeremy young said:
I had a feeling you were. I have been following Perry Marshal for a while now and I am comforted to know he has a solid grounding in the Word. Being a Christian myself I am obviously attracted to other Christian marketers who walk the walk. I guess...
(join the conversation below)

On the other hand, I'm a Christian, but I rarely talk about that. Is that a smart business move, or am I just being a big chicken?