Almost everyone is familiar with the Pareto Principle – better known as the 80/20 Rule. It was originally developed by Vilfredo Pareto as a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. It demonstrated that 20 percent of the people actually owned 80 percent of the wealth at that time. Since then the Pareto Principle has become a useful tool in many management circles to bring visibility to the concept that there often is a relatively small number of elements responsible for a major portion of the impact on a given situation.

So how can we apply the Pareto Principle to your marketing programs and strategies? There are several ways, but here’s one I find particularly useful. I have often presented to clients the value of creating a list of the 25 people in their marketplace who have the greatest potential for positive influence on their business – I call this the Alpha List. Applying Pareto’s Principle to this effort can help focus public relations and other marketing initiatives where your time and effort will have the greatest impact. What might happen if a cross-section of very influential people in your marketplace really knew and understood your company, your vision, your story and your value proposition? If you take the time to develop and execute a formal program you can build exposure and awareness at the highest levels.

How should you go about developing the list? Members of your Alpha List go by many descriptions. They are often referred to as industry leaders, movers and shakers, thought leaders, gurus, players, key individuals and VIPs. And no doubt some of the people who will have the greatest impact on your success are already part of your team. Here are five rules you can follow to help you get started.

Rule 1 – The media matters

In most markets the media have access to the greatest number of eyes and ears. Identify the key media vehicles covering your market – online, print and broadcast – and find out which people cover your category of product or service. Which editors, reporters and independent writers are responsible for the most coverage? Make a list of the top five. Learn what they care about, become a resource for them and establish yourself as part of their information network.

Rule 2 – Vendors can help you

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Every day in every market there are vendors of various products and services who come into contact with your customers and prospects. They’re having conversations about problems and solutions. Most problems impact multiple areas in a business, and most people have multiple problems. I often discuss solutions I’m familiar with regardless of whether they apply to what I’m selling. It helps to build trust and create a relationship. Who are some influential vendors that touch your market? Identify the top five, find out who the executives are and work to create a dialog between the companies.

Rule 3 – Customers come first

If your business is like most, you have a handful of customers who contribute more than their share to your success year after year. High volume customers. Customers who give great referrals. Customers with great growth potential. Who are your top five customers? Make sure you have a formal process to keep them happy and keep them around. Proactive customer service calls and a timely “thank-you” are simple, cheap and effective.

Rule 4 – There’s a reason they’re called VIPs

Most markets have a relatively small number of people who carry a great deal of respect and influence – and they’re generally easy to identify. Here are some profiles you might recognize.

n The woman who founded the industry.

n The inventor/developer of the original product in your category.

n The executive director of the industry’s leading professional association.

n The top research analyst covering your market.

n The guy who made his fortune and now spends time helping newcomers succeed.

It shouldn’t take long to name five from this category. If they’re not on the tip of your tongue, they probably don’t belong to this exclusive club. All of these people are highly interested in the health, trends and participants of the market. You’ll find they are receptive listeners when you have something of value to say.

Rule 5 – Look inside

the walls

Within the friendly walls of your company and its business partners there are at least five more Alphas. Who has the potential of helping you the most? Your banker, your board, your major investor, your critical strategic partners, your top salesperson, your top executives? You can’t assume they’ll stay motivated and enthusiastic supporters. They might, but you’ll sleep better at night knowing you haven’t left it to chance. You can create formal programs (publicly or privately) to keep them informed and keep them as strong advocates, champions, and promoters.

There you have it. The Alpha List of 25 of the people who can help you the most. When you master these 25, you can think about expanding the list. But remember Pareto’s Principle. Focus on maximizing the impact from the smaller, most critical list of influencers that have the greatest potential impact. Your return on investment in time and energy will likely get smaller as you go down the list. And those are the rules of the game.

Lon Hendrickson is president and founder of AlphaBrand Strategies. He can be reached via e-mail at