Some of my industry friends get a pained look on their faces every time I mention ‘Niche Marketing’. For some reason, these unassuming words can create a high expectation for the difficulty of the task. It made me realize that sometimes a simple choice of words can cause distress when we encourage people to try a new technique. Tell someone they are making ‘cuisine’ with their first attempt at cooking, and they’ll likely be over-wrought with the expectation of crafting a five-star meal right out of the gate. To the end of encouraging people to fight past their initial reaction, I decided to redefine ‘niche marketing’ in an essential way that corrects those expectations. By starting with its simplest form, I’d like to give even the most timid marketer among my garment decorating friends and any person running a small business some hope toward finding and serving their own niche.
First, let’s handle the term ‘niche’ – all we need to know about the idea of a ‘niche’ is that we are narrowing our focus. A ‘niche’ can be as simple as a group of customers with a common sensibility or interest, for whom we can identify common characteristics, needs, or desires. A classic example I refer to is a small side-business I built early in my career. My niche was fairly easy to define; I decided to make products for folk musicians. At the time, I was a (very) amateur folk musician myself, so this was a group of people I knew well and with whom I communicated and in whose circles I moved enough to have contacts and to know the places on-line and off that they frequented. I specifically targeted folk musicians who played instruments not particularly well-known by the public, knowing (as a player of the Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer) that members of this even narrower group were not well-served at the time, even by businesses that catered to musicians that played more mainstream folk instruments. In technical terms, I ‘identified an underserved niche’- in simpler parlance, I found a group of people with a common love of something and money to spend on that something that hadn’t enough product on which to spend it.
Second, let’s talk about ‘marketing’. It’s easy for some of us to see this either as ad spends, produced videos, testing and research, or something equally costly or complicated. Let’s break down the key parts of marketing into what they really are; marketing research is learning about people; what they want, who they are, where they are, and what drives them. The act of marketing to people is showing them what we have to offer and using our understanding of their needs to convince them that what we are offering is something that they will benefit from or enjoy.
With my example from above, the research was entirely organic- I try to be a good listener and it happened that I had done my own form of marketing research in spending time with people who loved to play folk instruments. I knew products they liked and used and I was steeped in the culture through playing with these folks. I decided to start my side business with a very narrow and focused product line– one product, a series of some 10 or so designs- that’s all. I had noticed that almost all of my compatriots had at least one tote bag with them at any given time. It turned out that a tote bag was one of the easiest ways to haul the music books and binders that were common to almost every class and hang-out. Knowing this, I sourced a gusseted tote bag so that it would be flat-bottomed and allow room for squared-off objects like the bindings of our books to comfortably sit side by side when the bag was leaned next to one’s chair. I chose a bag with natural earth-tones, complementary to the colors of the woods that made up most of our instruments.
The last piece of the puzzle was in the designs; I knew that many of us with less common instruments spent an inordinate amount of time explaining what it was our instrument was called when we played in public- a common topic of discussion was how hard it could be to play and concentrate while passers-by pestered us with the barrage of questions. Therefore, I created simple, homespun designs featuring clear images of our instruments under which were sometimes placed classic dictionary-styled headings showing the spelling of an instrument’s name and a phonetic pronunciation. These designs served as both an in-joke to those of us who know the instruments and the struggle of explaining them and as some small way to ‘advertise’ what it was one played. I created quick-running single-color versions of the designs as well as fully-colored versions with an up-charge for the increased run-time, and placed them on-line. I started by creating a small set of samples, showing them to friends on the folk music forums and groups, and by creating a set of sample swatches as an art piece to hang at the local music store that my local community of folk musicians frequented.
I admit that this example may sound a bit folksy, but I can attest that it was successful at the time. I had never intended this sideline to do much more than provide me a distraction from corporate embroidery, but during a time when the company for which I once worked was struggling, this sideline managed to keep me employed and my wages covered. Though I have long since ceased producing the bags (and sadly have had some time away from the Mountain Dulcimer) I still take cues from how simple and organic this process was when I introduce someone to the concept of niche marketing.
You can think of niche marketing a great deal like gift-giving. Those who give great gifts have a few things in common; they listen to the recipient’s desires and needs with open-minded curiosity and make note of them. They keep those needs in mind, and notice when something that they come across in their daily life fulfills those wants or needs that their intended recipient has expressed. They expand on directly identified objects, and thoughtfully find things that jive with the recipient’s desires that go beyond the initial request without stepping outside the character of what they want. Finally, they look for gifts that provide utility, enjoyment, or that delight through the experience they provide or even through simple novelty, while keeping them on the theme of the recipient’s likes.
Though you can use complicated tools and strategies to accomplish it and to go beyond this simple example, niche marketing at its core can be this simple. Identify a group of people with a common goal, culture, or interest that you know well or who you think you can research enough to understand well. Identify their wants and needs and think of ways you can serve these needs or delight these people in ways that play to their common culture. Go to the places and sites they frequent, and present a product that addresses their needs, and do so in their own ‘language’. Start small, where you are, and expand; you can use niche marketing to grow your business, as simple as that.
tags: business, community, customer relations, dulcimer, education, embroidery, folk music, gifts, learning, marketing, Music, niche, niche marketing, research, sales, selling, simple, social media, tote bags