Making the Most out of Your Marketing Niches

Vans are a niche marketing success story

We’ve all got one. Heck, you might have several. They might be small. You probably neglect them. But they’re there. And we’re here to tell you – it’s nice to have niches.

Sales and marketing is about identifying an audience and convincing them of the value of your product. But we all know that no audience or market is entirely homogenous. Hiding out on the fringes are the renegades and the radicals, the soft talkers and the silent operators. But those niche markets can be more valuable than you might think.

What makes it a niche?

A niche market is well-defined market, with unique wants, needs and desires. It’s essentially a sub-sector of a larger market. Marketing to that select population requires a focused approach that offers more targeted solutions to the unique challenges they face.

Take for example the broad idea of a ‘computer gaming’ market. The total global gaming market has a projected value of US$180 billion by 2021. Why wouldn’t you want to dive into that huge opportunity? Because Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and a host of other big names already have a rather established slice of that monstrous pie. That’s some serious competition to consider.

Let’s narrow it down then. People like role-playing games, right? Maybe you’ve got the talent to focus your efforts there. Except behemoths like Bioware and Rockstar are already huge in this space. So you dive a bit deeper. People love retro, app-based games, right? So you focus your business efforts on creating products and marketing to lovers of retro, app-based games, and suddenly you’ve got a hit. It’s a cliché – but it’s about being the big fish in a small pond, rather than a little fish in a big, scary pond full of multibillion dollar companies.

Don’t be misled though. Niche markets don’t necessarily mean low value. Just look at the staggering success of US-based footwear brand Vans. The brand founders established the company in the late 60s-early 70s, identifying a key (and underserved) niche market in California’s growing skateboard scene. The brand built their identity around serving the focused needs of this defined sub-sector of the wider sneakers market. How did that work out? Today the brand is a multibillion dollar global success story.

How do you identify your niche?

The chances are you’ve already got data on your niche market, it’s just about digging down to understand it.

Your sales team and customer-facing staff should be your first go-to on any discussion about customer identification. They’re the ones who interact with and gain understanding of your customers on a daily basis, and they’re also the ones that are most likely to have personally identified a smaller sub-set with a particular set of needs: the party-goers who come in at 3AM for a mass order of satay; the fashion lovers who seem to want to buy-out your stock of faux fur every Friday afternoon; the local school kids whose Pokemon Go addiction brings them past your shop each night… whatever it might be.

Facebook and other digital platforms also offer some insightful data. Does it turn out that 10% of your unique formula fish-feed brand followers are 17-22 year old women in Ipoh who also like the film The Little Mermaid? There’s definitely something weird going on there, but it’s the kind of identifiably weird that could bode well for your niche market appeal.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people either. That means both online and off. Engage with your customers and discuss what it is they want or need that they currently don’t have, the particular solution that you’re on the cusp of offering but not quite tailored to their market. Look for things like dedicated forums for niche market groups, sub-forums or Facebook groups. Get to know the niche audience, understand what it is they want, then work out how you can help.

It’s not just about identifying your niche, it’s about engaging them

All good marketing is about engaging with your audience, but niche marketing puts a particular focus on that importance. Word-of-mouth is crucial in engaging a niche market audience. You’re trying to focus your efforts on a particular sub-set of a sub-set of a market, you need to know how that market interacts, and you need that market to recognise your brand as catering to them. There’s no better way to do that than get them talking about you. That should be considered a particular priority in Malaysia.

According to a 2015 Nielsen study, 86% of Malaysians trust word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know. And guess who people in niche markets know? Other people who interact in those niche markets. That goes beyond just a quick chat beside the water cooler these days, it’s WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat. People are constantly connected to conversations with their friends and peers. That means making yourself part of the conversation is an important part of the journey to access niche markets.

Looking back at the story of Vans, it’s clear that word-of-mouth played a big part in their success. Skaters in the local area quickly began to recognise that Vans offered a superior product for meeting their own challenges and demands – essentially a rubber-soled shoe that reduced slip on skateboards. Vans leveraged this knowledge by sponsoring top skaters, as well as having Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva of awesome Dogtown and Z-boys fame design a set of shoes. They recognised the niche that they were gaining traction in, then worked to catapult themselves further into the conversations held in that market.

Vans represent a particularly powerful success story in the discussion of niche markets, but they are by no means alone. So what does your opportunity look like? Marketing to a niche market is about understanding the detailed and specific elements that define that niche, then presenting and promoting a solution that meets the needs of those particular demands. When it comes down to it, that’s all about knowing your audience. Whether you identify a viable niche or not, that process is something no brand can afford to ignore.

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