I was recently interviewed by a print magazine about how I started my business. In it, I offered several tips and ideas on how to carve a niche in the marketplace that I personally applied.
I realized some of these tips were particularly powerful. So I wanted to reprint some of my answers here for you.
If you know my personal story, you know how niche marketing played an important role in my career.
Long story short, as the child of an alcoholic I feared rejection immensely, which led to a reclusive childhood. We all fear rejection to some degree. But for me, it was debilitating.
I wanted to overcome my fears and decided to dive into the world of sales in order to fight them head-on. Years passed and many failures ensued until I finally became the top producing salesperson in Canada for a major Fortune 500 company.
How did I accomplish that?
Since I hated prospecting, I found more effective marketing strategies that caused high quality prospects to come to me instead of the other way around. I no longer had to prospect. I no longer had to be rejected. I no longer had doors slammed in my face.
In short, I went from prospecting to positioning.
In other words, I decided to specialize in a specific niche and deal with only a small percentage of the market — even though my employer did not require it of me. I positioned myself as an expert for a specific target market within that company's larger market.
Even though I could sell everything to everyone from this employer, I decided to specialize in only one product line for one particular category of prospect.
The result? I appeared as a specialist. (I'll come back to this later.)
Realize that doing so helped me to attract pre-qualified prospects to my door. I didn't have to do cold prospecting anymore. I didn't have to “bother people” to listen to my pitch. I attracted higher quality prospects who wanted me to help them.
People today are bombarded with so much information, commercials, and competition. Especially online. Prospecting, especially cold prospecting, is not only difficult but also next to impossible. (Unless you have a million-dollar advertising budget to risk.)
Thus, you have to market in such a way that causes those kinds of people to come to your business or website, and not the other way around. Like a magnet, if you will.
Therefore, rather than prospect for clients you must position your business as unique in a particular category or industry, or for a specific audience or market. By being unique and focused on a core market, you will naturally become the leader in that market.
With all the competition out there vying for your market's attention, it is no longer possible to be better than the competition. The goal is to be different, not better.
In other words, don't duplicate. Instead, differentiate! It's better to be the leader in a small niche than an alsoran in a general one. You will naturally dominate that market as a byproduct rather than spinning your wheels trying to corner a market by brute force.
Being a general copywriter when I first started out would have pitted me against all the copywriters in the world, particularly all the top copywriters who were far better than me.
However, being a copywriter specializing in cosmetic surgery, which was my niche at the time, I naturally dominated that niche. I called myself “Success Doctor” because I helped doctors become successful. Through better copywriting and marketing, that is.
Today's world has become overcommunicated, overadvertised, and hypercompetitive, it all appears as just one huge blur of sameness. If you attempt to be too general or too wide in your marketing approach, you will only dissipate among the blur.
People won't see any greater value in buying from you than in buying from others.
One of the greatest errors committed by most new businesses is that they fall into a trap: they try to be “all things to all people.” And they do so because they are mislead by the notion that, by offering more (or by serving more people), they will generate more sales.
That's understandable for the survival of any new business depends on the number of sales it makes. However, the more general you are or appear to be, the more indifferent you will appear to your audience. Indifferent to their specific needs, goals, and problems.
Based on the law of averages, you will have to advertise and market yourself quite heavily to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible, with the hope of attracting an adequate amount of prospects that will in turn translate into a certain number of sales.
Undeniably, this requires a gigantic advertising budget. Or a heck of a lot of time. For most new and especially smaller businesses, this is obviously quite a challenge.
It's true that, the greater your reach is, the greater the potential quantity of responses will be. But what about quality? Would it matter if your business or website generates a large quantity of uninterested, tire-kicking visitors that will simply never buy from you?
Let's look at the web. If your online business targets everyone, then your marketing message must be painted with broad brushstrokes as to appeal to everyone. The challenge with such an approach is the fact that you will lose a large percentage of visitors.
Some may fall into your target market, but most visitors will leave your website because they likely feel left out or have no interest. Others simply choose competitors that might provide them with greater perceived value. Even if they offer the same thing.
In other words, the broader you are in your appeal, the less relevant you will be to any and every individual visiting your site. Guess what becomes the deciding factor?
If you're like (or perceived to be like) everybody else, then the least common denominator they have to work with is price. Price becomes the only metric of comparison. If there are no other points of differentiation, naturally the cheapest alternative wins.
Why? Because generalists have too many things in common. Therefore, pricing seems like the only difference. It will be the only metric used in comparing your value to others.
Sales will increase dramatically if your site is centered on a specific theme, product, industry, people, or outcome. A niche, in other words. (A niche can still be, or be a part of, the mass market. A large yet underserved mass market is still a niche, by the way.)
It's about focus. For the more focused you are, the less you will need to produce a sufficient quantity of visitors to produce similar results by appealing to everyone.
A good niche is one that has three major qualities:
- It exists already;
- It's easily identifiable;
- And it's easily targetable.
Let me explain why this is important.
The most common question I receive from aspiring entrepreneurs is: “What product should I sell?” (Or “what sells well on the Internet?”) Quite frankly, everything sells and can sell well — from pet food to travel packages — in some way, especially online.
In fact, everything is being or can be sold, somehow, in some form or another, on the Internet. But that's not the problem. It's not what you sell that matters. It's to whom.
In other words, don't look first for a product to sell. Look for an easily targetable market with an easily identifiable need or problem, and fill their need or solve their problem.
In order to achieve this, you need to be observant and listen to the needs of the marketplace. Conduct some market research. If people seem to be asking for a specific solution to a problem, obviously it is because a niche exists that has yet to be filled.
Look at some of the questions people ask or the complaints they have. These are very good indicators that a need exists. Otherwise, the marketplace would be silent.
Once you find a viable niche, learn as much as you can from it. Everything will flow from that point. Follow this tactic and you will constantly find products to sell.
Simply put, don't carve a niche. Rather, find one and fill it. Consequently, your marketing will naturally help to solidify your position and thus dominate that niche, rather than trying to “get more clients” by trying to appeal to and go after everyone.
Sure, there are ultra-targeted niches that are very small and limited. In such cases, the only way to remain profitable is to dominate several of them. Some people will go after a multitude of small niches. Others will go after smaller ones within a larger market.
This is called “market segmentation,” where you segment your marketing to cater to a wide variety of small niches. But for the scope of this article, let's just say that narrowing your focus will attract not only more prospects but far more qualified prospects, too.
How do you dominate a niche?
It doesn't need a lot of work, really. When you position yourself as the expert in a niche, you naturally dominate it through the power of leadership. Leadership is not the result of an action or an event. It's a position, one based on the power of perception.
If you offer a customary product or service, or if your competition offers the same thing you do, catering to a niche helps to project an aura of uniqueness and superiority instantaneously by virtue of the fact that it doesn't appear as customary.
Rather than copying your competition, you isolate yourself from them.
For instance, if you required brain surgery, would you choose a dentist? Of course not. More importantly, would you choose a general, medical practitioner, even a general surgeon? No. You would probably choose a neurosurgeon. A brain surgeon, in other words.
It's the same thing for direct marketing. If you owned an imported car that needed new brakes, would you choose any general mechanic? Or, if one existed, would you choose one that not only specializes in brakes but also specializes in imported cars?
Expertise is in the eyes of the niche.
You become the leader not because you are superior but because you are different. You're going from being indifferent to your market to being different to them.
Specialization is in itself a powerful marketing process that, as a byproduct, generates the perception of expertise. It's amazingly effective in creating top-of-mind awareness.
Contrary to popular opinion, focusing on a seemingly smaller niche doesn't lessen your chances of making sales. Quite the opposite. For example, an accountant specializing in car dealerships will acquire more clients than a general accountant will.
An advertising salesperson specializing in home furnishing stores will sell more ads than a typical salesperson will. A photographer specializing in weddings will get more photography bookings than a regular photographer will. And the list goes on and on.
As more businesses get started, and the more inundated with marketing messages our society becomes, then the less time, energy, and money people will have to spend in choosing the companies or websites with which they will do business.
Thus, specialization helps to solve that problem by projecting an aura of expertise.
Take a mechanic. Rarely would you call a general mechanic an “expert,” unless she has invested a considerable amount of resources in branding herself that way, or in educating herself deeply in the world of mechanics backed by many years of experience.
On the other hand, it would be easy to dub a mechanic — even a new one, with no experience — that specializes in imported car brakes as an “expert mechanic.”
Similarly, by finding, filling, and dominating a niche, you can become an expert by default — not by design. You become an expert as a natural byproduct. In other words, a generalist is just a marketer. But a specialist is an expert. That's the difference.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.