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The Two Faces of Niche Marketing

Jennifer Lawton, Owner, Just Books, Inc.

So when I started asking myself what I knew about niche marketing, two points came immediately to mind. First, NDA, the company I co-founded seven years ago, doesn't do a lot of marketing. Second, we clearly operate in a niche. Pretty much all our marketing efforts target this niche, which would be my definition of niche marketing. So what I know and what I can share comes from experience.

From NDA, which provides computer consulting services to high-technology companies, I've learned that niche marketing can play two ways. The first, which is what we do, is to have a niche-oriented company that you support with marketing and other "branding" efforts. The second is to have a broad-based company that seeks new markets, or a deeper experience, within a specific piece of the broad market.

Two Faces, Five Points

One starts as a niche, the other carves a niche within a broader space. So when formulating your niche marketing campaign, you must first decide where you fit. Once you do, consider implementing the following five-point plan, which can play to either niche "face."

  1. Know Yourself.
    Understand who you are as a company and what your strengths are. When you use marketing, you either draw attention to a well-known and understood pre-existing strength, or you try to define a strength that you have recently acknowledged or are creating. Your strength becomes the focus of your niche marketing campaign; it also becomes what differentiates you--what makes you not one of the Joneses, but a Super Jones.

    Consider NDA's high-technology service niche. NDA doesn't just service computer networks, or merely provide the best computer-networking services. Our niche is servicing high technology, as opposed to law or medical firms, large corporations, companies in general, or any other slice of the business landscape. Our niche--where we do 80 percent of our business--is clearly defined and specific. Lots of vendors provide computer-consulting services; not a lot support high-technology companies.
  2. Know Your Goal.
    Understand why you want to emphasize your niche; in other words, what is your goal? Is it to increase name recognition among current or potential clients? Is it to announce that you are a player in your specified niche, or to launch a new part of your business? Niche marketing is all about leverage. You are using your niche to leverage your position in the marketplace beyond where you would have been without the niche.

    In somewhat of a departure for NDA, we've recently used our high-technology expertise to target the education market at the elementary and high school level. We are an approved Department of Education K-12 vendor, and I have been an adviser on the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission in Boston and the newly formed venture, Youth Tech Entrepreneurs. We got the word out that we care about K-12, and as a result, we've become known in the Boston area for this niche.
  3. Know Your Customer
    If you don't know whom your niche is going to effect, then you will not have a very effective marketing campaign. You might want to target K-12 teachers specifically, or companies that use Microsoft rather than Unix-based computers, or tulips as opposed to flowers. In each case, to market your products or services successfully, you need to find the teachers, or the Microsoft-based businesses, or the people who buy tulips.
  4. Keep It Simple
    As with any marketing campaign, make it easy to understand and susceptible to sound bytes. Don't overcomplicate what you are trying to do. Keep it dead simple. You rarely lose with simple.

    Example? I love Volkswagen's recent niche marketing campaign for the New Bug; it is simple, clean, humorous and visible. VW has succeeded in leveraging a niche--the overwhelming popularity of the bug in general--to increase the value of the VW name and awareness of VW in general, especially with a new generation of buyers. (It might have even helped that the car itself was kick-ass.

    Counter the VW campaign with the bevy of cell phone companies tripping over themselves to define their niche, only to come up short with advertising that is overcrowded, inarticulate, hardly memorable, and not at all distinctive. A cell phone is a cell phone is a cell phone, these efforts appear to be saying.
  5. Have Fun!
    You are creating an intensity with a niche that you don't have with a general product. So you might as well stir up intensity within yourself and have fun with it! Intensity allows for a levity that you don't always have the option to use. So allow yourself humor, slapstick, parody, and oversimplification to emphasize and increase the intensity that naturally engulfs your given niche.

One Last Word

You might think of niche marketing as the small town rather than the mall during frenzied shopping periods, such as back-to-school or the holidays, when merchants are trying to get you to buy, buy, buy. Big players don't have much opportunity to use niches to help. Even mall-situated niche stores, such as Kitchen Etc. and Petco, don't use their niche when they blitz us during prime time.

Enter the small town--that's you. You know yourself, your goals, and your customer. You keep it simple and you have fun. Then you mix it up, marketing your whole self and also emphasizing a portion of who you are: your niche. Soon you'll be able to create a niche within your niche...and you'll keep it going.

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