You can’t please everyone, as the well-worn proverb goes. And with most industries bursting at the seams with established brands and shiny new upstarts, differentiating your offering from the crowd is a clever—if not crucial—way to cut through.
Enter niche marketing.
In a nutshell, niche marketing targets a very specific audience, very well. New to the concept? Here’s a thing or five about marketing niches.
What is niche marketing?
Niche marketing is an advertising strategy that targets a section or subset of an entire market. Rather than marketing to anyone and every one an offering might appeal to, it hones in on a particular group of potential customers who are most likely to benefit from it.
Gourmet dog food caters to a particular subset of the pet food market, for example. The same can be said for a vegan, cruelty-free lipstick within the beauty sector, or a matchmaking app for divorcees within the online dating industry.
A niche market can be determined by any number of defining factors. The usual suspects are:
- Demographic (gender, age, race, income, education, employment status)
- Geographic location
- Psychographic data (interests, personality, attitudes, lifestyles, opinions, and values)
- Quality level (basic through to luxury)
- Spending habits (premium, mid-range, discount, wholesale)
Targeting a niche market is often more effective—and certainly easier—than trying to target a broader audience. Marketing ‘womenswear’ to every woman is going to be tricky, but if you’re selling ‘chic maternity wear for modern mothers’, it’s far more clear where to channel your marketing efforts (*ahem* Instagram).
Marketing to a niche also heightens your brand’s visibility. Think about it this way: Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?
The purpose of niche marketing
Niche marketing aims to build a concentrated, but not necessary ‘small’ customer base that is fiercely loyal to a brand. It does this by serving their specific customers’ unique needs and speaking their ‘language’, that can be established through brand identity, aesthetic and tone.
It’s important to not just sell to a niche market but to also celebrate and engage with it.
Higher engagement means higher conversion rates, as evidenced by the recent rise of ‘micro-influencer marketing’ (where influencers and brands with social followings of 3k-100k are considered to be more genuine, relatable and trustworthy than those with broader audiences).
Simply put, if the purpose of marketing is to create relationships, then the purpose of niche marketing is to create serious, long-term relationships.
The benefits of niche marketing
There’s a bounty of benefits to refining your offering and targeting a specialized audience:
- Niche marketing resonates more powerfully with people who come across your business or land on your site/blog post/workshop etc.
- It’s easier to come up with your business’ messaging, content and tone of voice.
- You can focus your marketing budget on specific channels and spaces.
- It’s a good way for a new business to enter the market and get traction from day one (which one grabs your attention: a ‘fitness center’, or ‘a fitness center for nerds’?).
- You’re likely to see a higher return on investment, as you’re preaching to the choir, so to speak.
- You can position yourself or brand as an expert and authority on your niche area.
- Your business will (generally) have less competition—especially if you find and cater to a gap in a market that is underserved.
Examples of niche marketing
You’ll find brands nailing niche marketing in the nooks and crannies of every industry. Here are some that you’ve likely to have already heard of.
Having honed in on the small business market with their ultra-mobile credit card reader, Square has since introduced marketing and software tools. “We’re empowering the electrician to send invoices, helping the clothing boutique see what’s selling best, and providing the coffee chain with customizable gift cards,” says the Silicon Valley upstart. Square approaches this typically time-poor sector of the market in a simple, straightforward manner and shares stories from happy Square users on their social channels.
Property management service Luxico targets the premium end of the hospitality market with luxury, private accommodation, and VIP treatment. Within this high-end segment they’ve further diversified through their brand philosophy (‘luxury without the snobbery’) and by creatively catering to the fancies of their well-heeled clients – with portable Jacuzzi spas, private jets and, for one particular tech billionaire, a single croissant, sourced from a specific bakery, delivered at exactly 5 AM in a red bag.
Speaking of croissants, here is a very niche bakery that, according to The New York Times, may well be making the world’s best: Lune Croissanterie. “Lune is unique; designed to inspire a commitment to precision in each exquisite detail, during every stage of the croissant-making process,” says the tasty outfit—that has tantalized the more discerning of Melbourne’s foodies with a sparse menu of crisp, buttery offerings. “Lune is not a shop, nor is it a factory. It is a celebration of the creation, complexity and ultimate enjoyment of a croissant.”
There are knitting patterns; there are knitting patterns for women’s clothing—and there is Sister Mountain’s ‘Minimalist knitting patterns for modern women’. Tapping into minimalism and sustainable fashion trends, this brand has found itself a stylish, contemporary nook in a market typically associated with nannas. How did Sister Mountain shake off the mothballs? With a minimal, neutral-toned brand aesthetic and a social call to join the #knitsbythesisterhood community.
Bristlr has carved out a corner of the dating app market by segregating from your common Tinder and OKCupid and targeting beard owners and appreciators. Or, as its tagline says: ‘Connecting those with beards to those who want to stroke them’. Championing a positive and authentic vibe (refreshing in this particular market), Bristlr has turned hairy heads with its cheeky social content and campaigns such as #showusyourbristles.
Wolf + Friends
Another app that’s made a highly specialized splash is Wolf + Friends—a social network for millennial mums raising kids with special needs such as autism, ADHD, sensory processing issues, developmental delays, mental health issues, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other learning differences. Sure, there are a million apps that promise to create connections and community, but this one has spoken to a small (but burgeoning) sector of the parenting market that really needs it, and has done so with a simple, on-trend brand identity and a user-centric product. Read: millennial flypaper.
There are magazines aplenty on the cooking scene, but Chickpea Magazine has cornered a strictly herbivore section of the market—one that has a little extra cash to splurge on an ad-free, thick matte paper periodical. “We’re not a news magazine—think of us more like a timely, mini-cookbook/coffee table book,” says team Chickpea, who engage with their upmarket vegan audience through a delectable Instagram account and informative blog.
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How to market to a niche
Before you start marketing to a particular niche, you need to gain a thorough understanding of the larger market that surrounds it—and that means research, research, and more research. This can include talking to potential customers, attending conferences and events, or analyzing social media data and insights.
Then you need to get crystal clear on the characteristics of your niche within this market.
With those defining factors outlined in our first point (demographic, geographic location, psychographic data, etc) considered, start narrowing down your target market. For example, if your business sells raised garden bed kits, does it sell raised garden bed kits to city dwellers? Does it sell raised garden bed kits to young working professional city dwellers? Does it sell raised garden bed kits to young working professional city dwellers who live in apartments, and so on.
A good rule of thumb is to keep narrowing down until you’ve gone one step too far and then reel it back in (hint: Once you’re selling raised garden bed kits to young working professional city dwellers who live in apartments and own French bulldogs, you’ve gone too far).
Once you’ve defined your niche audience, tell them what you’re offering them.
A useful exercise is to summarize your business in a single sentence. Take these examples:
- ‘We make one of the best t-shirts in the world’ (March Tee)
- ‘Writing that doesn’t suck’ (Wild Spark Copy)
- ‘Hi I’m Lucy Sheridan, the first and only Comparison Coach’ (Lucy Sheridan)
- ‘Welcome to PRICK, London’s first cactus and succulent boutique’ (PRICK)
Spell out what you’re here to do in a tone that will instantly resonate with your specific target audience, and then figure out where to spread your message. Is your target audience trawling their inbox? Send out a newsletter. Are they at farmer's markets? Whip up some flyers. Are they on Instagram? Start telling some Instagram Stories. Are they on Twitter? Make some video content (a whopping 82% of Twitter users are digging video content).
It’s not about flinging your offering into the abyss and hoping to catch the attention of customers, only to have it fall flat. The beauty of niche marketing is that it resonates with people who are already primed to love what you’re doing—and likely to lap it right up.
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