NAIL YOUR MARKET NICHE
Who was the wannabe at your high school? Every class had one or two—ours was a girl named B. (I’ll just call her B, to maintain her anonymity).
B was the girl that wanted to be popular in every fiber of her being. She tried so hard—she joined every activity and club that was considered popular, she spent hours practicing to join the dance team, and she sat near the popular kids in class—anything and everything that she could do to get them to notice and like her. And truly, B was very pretty, talented, and fun to be around. So why is it that they never gave her a break?
Why am I telling you this? Because niche marketing is basically high school—and everyone wants to be in the popular group.
What is niche marketing?
And an example!
A market niche can be defined as a sub-group of a larger audience. So, think of a niche audience like a clique in high school. While you might be part of the larger group “a high school student” you probably most identify with a smaller group of athletes, musicians, etc.
Wrongly, a lot of experts talk about a niche market in terms of product markets. I think that is a complete mistake! Although a product niche could only connect to one consumer audience, it is likely going to appeal to many. No wonder why people feel like they have to give up sales to appeal to an audience.
A proper marketing niche should describe the audience rather than the product. Simply put, a market niche is who you serve and how you serve them, not what you serve them. So, an Italian Restaurant is a product niche in the larger market of restaurants. But an Italian Restaurant that caters itself specifically to locals by being kid-friendly, has properly defined their marketing niche. In terms of marketing, they would likely have more in common with, let’s say, a Mexican Restaurant also targeting locals, than an Olive Garden restaurant that is off of the highway targeting travelers.
Owning your Niche
When I think of someone who knows and really owns her market niche, it’s Dawn Combs. Dawn is an author, natural health expert, and along with her husband Carson, is the proprietor of Mockingbird Meadows Farm and SodaPharm Soda Shop in Marysville, OH.
Although I’ve known Dawn for years, it was just this year that something clicked in Dawn’s business—turning her customers from passive shoppers to super passionate hyper-fans. What happened? In her words, “We were running our business, kidding ourselves that we were being real and authentic. We were being authentic, but in the way that didn’t offend… You have to be brave enough to walk away from the customers that don’t get you…The energy that it will take you trying to cultivate, to make them a repeat customer, (and) work on brand loyalty for people who don’t get you is not energy that you can use to grow and move forward. We walk in here every day and we don’t have to work on relationships—we just are.”
When I asked Dawn if they had always known who their niche was, she said, “Flat out. No”. They assumed that it was other businesses that sold products with herbs. They were looking externally to define who they needed to reach. “For the longest time we thought that we needed to be cultivating the person that would be buying an herbal product on the coast. People very different from us. There was always a dissonance.”
Like with many businesses, the 2020 shutdowns were real, and impacted foot traffic greatly. Dawn’s books are also about owning your own health decisions. “We were driven to a point where we didn’t think we were going to keep the doors open one way, or another. We were afraid of our customers reactions to know who we really were. We were left with nothing but our principals, it was at that point that we turned full on (and faced our audience.)”
After years of trying really hard to not offend and being “oatmeal” as Dawn described it, they did a crazy and somewhat terrifying thing—they completely owned their niche. Dawn explained, “We wrote a letter and a video (to our customers). We basically said this is who we are and if that doesn’t work for you, it’s been grand, we wish you well. But if you can go on this journey with us… this is our line in the sand.”
To most of us in corporate marketing, it’s hard to imagine being at a place where you are literally telling some customers, “so long”, but that’s exactly what embracing your niche looks like.
Now after being in business for well over a decade, their business is thriving. In this very black and white world that we live in, this turned their customers into raving fans. Dawn found out that the people that they were trying so hard not to offend, the people that they were bending over backwards to accommodate— they weren’t even their customers. When they revealed who they were and what they were all about to their audience, their audience revealed themselves, too. What’s more, word-of-mouth traveled, bringing in more customers who shared their same passions. Dawn says, “They come in the shop because we have similar interests and stay because they eat and drink our tasty food, and love our products.”
Dawn’s one piece of advice for others trying to find their niche is to “Find people that you would enjoy spending time with that would “get” (you)….cultivate customers who you would want to hang out with.”
Defining Your Niche Marketing Strategy
As a brand marketer, what I love about Dawn’s story is that it really holds me accountable to what I’m doing with my own brand values. It’s about looking inwards.
So, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? How do you define and go after a niche audience?
If I brought it back to our high school example and asked, “How do you become friends with the athletes?” You would probably tell me that playing a sport and working out in the gym would be a good way to start.
But what if I told you that I am probably the klutziest and most uncoordinated person around— so how about I just hang out with the athletes. Maybe learn how to talk like an athlete? Afterall, I can surely learn a few baseball stats that will impress any athlete??
After a while, you might ask me exactly why do I want to be friends with the athletes when we have so little in common. But isn’t that what we do as businesses and brands All. Of. The. Time?
As a marketer, I don’t think that we define our niche as much as we discover our niche. Something that we uncover that was inside us all of the time. We might have to come up with the right way to communicate to our audience, like Dawn did by writing a letter and recording a video.
So how do you know if you have found your market niche? Dawn described it as a relief. I agree, finding the community that you fit into should feel natural—Like you were meant to be there.
Niche Marketing Advantages and Disadvantages
Is niche marketing a successful strategy? YES, without a doubt.
Why is niche marketing a profitable strategy? When you know and embrace your people—they respond.
In my eyes, there are only advantages to niche marketing. Yes, it does mean letting go of the effort toward those that aren’t your people. Not worrying about if you and your product are a perfect fit for the wrong people. And putting all of that purpose and intention toward those that are a good fit with you.
I do want to be clear that doesn’t necessarily mean telling off any customers—whether they are in your niche or not. You are just telling everyone who you are in an authentic and specific way—and then saying welcome to everyone.
Tips for Niche Marketing
First, answer some questions about you and your brand. If you are a solo entrepreneur or business owner—these might be about you personally.
What is your business or product category? Example: Italian Restaurant
Why did you go into business? Example: We are a family-owned business, cooking family recipes.
What specific problem to do you solve? Example: We feed hungry people.
Who do you serve? Example: Mostly local families
How do you serve them? Example: We have a clean family-friendly environment. We are ready with crayons when you sit down. Our staff is kid-trained and won’t be offended by extra crumbs and a little spilt milk.
Why would they choose you? Example: Families can eat out without the embarrassment
Example: We love serving our family classics to other local families! We are passionate about making sure that every family gets to eat out without any embarrassment. We understand what it’s like to have kids—come one, come all!
Next, you should be able to answer who is naturally not going to be a good fit.
In our example:
Couples looking for a romantic evening—probably not a good fit.
Seniors looking for a quiet meal—probably not a good fit.
Business lunch meetings—probably not a good fit.
As a non-parent myself, I would personally respect and appreciate a restaurant telling me upfront that they are a VERY kid-friendly place. While I probably wouldn’t go there to eat dinner with my husband, when I grab a lunch with my girlfriend and her toddler—it would probably be first on my list. By knowing who they are up front, it allows me as the consumer to avoid frustration. Trust me, no matter how good the food is, I’m not going to go back if I had planned a romantic dinner with my husband and stumbled unknowingly into a situation akin to Saturday at Chick-fil-A.
Now, Own Your Niche!
Embrace it, shout it, and talk to everyone you know about it! Your people will love you, what you stand for and want more of it from you. Who doesn’t love someone who knows who they are, and spills over with confidence?
Owning your niche is really more about you than your customer. It’s about knowing who you are, solving real customers’ needs and allowing a connection to happen through your shared passions. Trust that your people will be waiting for you when you decide to show up for them.