The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 9: Using the Overton Window in Marketing

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

This week’s breakthrough idea comes from the mid-1990s and is called The Overton Window.

The Overton Window is a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics. The core concept is that politicians are limited in what policy ideas they can support — they generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. 1

Mackinac Center for Public Policy

In both politics and marketing, there’s a range of acceptable ideas. This window shifts over time, and what is not viable today may be possible tomorrow.

The Future Lives Outside the Overton Window

You can think of Overton Windows as spectrums of ideas. Every idea has two polar opposites, and between the two, there are different options with certain levels of acceptance. The point made by Overton is that usually, a very narrow range of ideas on the spectrum is politically (or in our case commercially) viable.

Image source: Wikipedia

Marketing is not immune to the norms of social acceptance. Niching down with your business requires us to work with ideas that can be considered radical or disruptive by the mainstream. 

If an idea is far inside the Overton Window, your business will get easily commoditized. As an entrepreneur, you want to avoid it to overcome competition. At the same time, if your marketing aim is too far outside the window, your business will become too niche to grow.

To find your balance, you’ll have to walk at the edges. Disruptive ideas are where the market is going to be in the future. But broadly acceptable ideas are monetizable today.

Disruptive Marketing Is About Challenging What Is Permissible

When people come across disruptive ideas they won’t readily accept them – especially when they come across them for the first time. Instead, the goal of niche business marketing is to condition your audience and start a discussion in that direction.

Key three (3) steps:

  • Start by introducing ideas that challenge the status quo, in a professional manner. It will show your audience a different perspective and make them take it seriously. 

  • Disruptive ideas need a low barrier of entry. Use paid channels and “top of the funnel” content for that first step.

  • Focus on moving the conversation to what is commercially viable today using bounce factors.

Final Thoughts

The Overton Window is a powerful blueprint for niche business marketing. Some of the smartest businesses I know of operate at the fringes of what is widely accepted. It creates a real sense of community and shared vision between them and their followers and customers.

Stay inspired,