This is the third in a weekly series of excerpts from my book, The Digital Handshake. It deals with the topic of niche marketing. — Paul Chaney
In times when marketing budgets are tight, finding ways to 1) improve the targeting of your message so that it reaches only the audience you want to reach, 2) increase the relevance of that message so that it resonates with that audience, and 3) trim the fat on wasteful spending is of utter importance.
Target Your Audience
One amazing characteristic the Internet offers is the ability to thinly-slice targeted audience segments.
Data that reveals who is most likely to do business with us can be collected in a number of ways – from cookies dropped on a Website visitor's hard-drive to information collected via a survey or registration form, to behavioral targeting based on your activity on the Web to analytics using software such as Google Analytics or SiteCatalyst.
In fact, it can get a bit creepy just thinking about how much marketers may know about you and your buying habits.
What I am going to suggest both now and later is that we no longer just target audiences, we participate in communities where our prospective customers already gather and/or create such communities ourselves.
Of course, targeting an audience requires that you know where they spend their time online. It's becoming commonplace to find them on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Once you know where online your audience resides, you will need to fashion messages that have the greatest chance of resonating with them and scratching where they itch. The best way to understand the market is to do something marketers aren't accustomed to, and that's listen.
One you know where your audience lives online and what makes them tick, you will be better equipped to choose delivery mechanisms that are the most cost-effective. That is where the tools of social media can become your ally as many of them require little or no investment of capital. (Time, perhaps, but not capital.)
THE FUTURE OF MARKETING IS IN THE NICHES
Given that the Internet can help you more precisely target and impact a defined market segment, let me go one step further and say I believe the future of marketing is in the niches. There is no reason a marketer or small business owner should take a blanket, shotgun approach and waste valuable marketing dollars when a rifle approach works much better.
There was once a time when the number of eyeballs who saw your message was the metric of greatest importance. Now, it's about finding the right eyeballs, those most likely to do business with you. That's where niche marketing comes into play.
Wikipedia says, “Niche market ventures may become profitable even though they are by nature small in comparison to the mainstream marketplace, due to the benefits of specialization and focus on small identifiable market segments; even without the benefit of economy of scale.”
It's a matter of going deep, not wide, and the Internet is the perfect vehicle to help you achieve that goal. In the next section of the book you will see how blogs, social networks, online communities, Internet video and other forms of content will help you do just that, and inexpensively to boot.
Penetrate Unfilled or Partially-Filled Niches: The Wailing Wall Story
The real key to success is in finding unfilled or partially-filled niches. Friend and Internet marketing mentor, Dr. Ralph Wilson, a man I refer to as the “godfather of Internet marketing” likens niche marketing to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Standing at the base of the Wall and looking up, the immense stone blocks laid one upon another seem to reach to sky… But when you look more closely at the Wall, you see the crevices between the massive blocks.
In the first two tiers of stone these crevices are filled with papers inscribed with the prayers of the faithful. Above them the crevices are alive: Plants, rooted deeply in the cracks between the stones, abound far above the heads of the worshipers and add character and life to the Wall.
“The Wall has a lesson for us,” says Dr. Wilson. “If your company doesn't have the mammoth clout of a Fortune 500 corporation, then you must find a niche between the immense players and adapt yourself to thrive there.”
Marketing on the Internet is not a matter of scaling the entire wall, but finding and penetrating a marketable niche – filling that yet to be filled crack, crevice, nook or cranny.
Social Media Marketing Can Help You Penetrate Marketable Niches
Stephanie Edwards-Musa is a real estate agent in Houston, Texas. According to the Houston Association of Realtors3 there are 21,000 in Houston and surrounding areas.
So, how does Stephanie go about setting herself apart from the stiff competition? By finding and marketing to a particular niche, the “green” market. In fact, Stephanie has branded herself as Houston's green Realtor.
“My niche is that of energy efficient, healthier and eco-friendly properties,” says Edwards-Musa. “These may have renewable energy such as solar or rainwater capture, or just healthier and energy efficient in general.”
“Green” means something different to everyone, Edwards-Musa states. “My clients value the fact that I understand what they are looking for during the home buying process.”
Rather than use traditional real estate marketing techniques such as direct mail, which would not be in keeping with how Edwards-Musa is trying to position herself in the marketplace, she is using digital media, specifically social media.
“I market mostly through blogging and social networking. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter just pull it all together allowing me to connect with everyone more often,” says Edwards-Musa. “My blog, which focuses on sharing thoughts regarding green in the real estate industry, has been instrumental in creating my brand, and a majority of the leads I receive come through it.”
My favorite example to illustrate just how definable a niche can be is a blog published by Jay Brewer that deals with one topic, single serve coffee makers.
Brewer (which is not a bad name to have if you're talking about coffee makers) started the blog in 2004 and actively maintains it to this day. That's five years worth of blogging about nothing but single serve coffee makers and the accompanying coffee culture.
He makes money by advertising, you guessed it, single serve coffee makers and similar products. Not only that, he took what was a hobby and turned it into a business by finding other penetrable niches and exploiting them with blogs, then monetizing that content with advertising.
Now, if a guy can make a living talking about single serve coffee makers, surely there is a niche out there for you!