If you wanted to buy a book online, where would you shop?
If you wanted to buy organic foods, where would you go?
If you wanted to see how your baseball team fared at its most recent game, where would you look?
Raise your hand if you answered Amazon, Whole Foods or ESPN.
Those responses are not surprising. Amazon started as an online bookseller. Whole Foods elevated natural foods supermarkets. ESPN was the first network dedicated to airing and reporting sports.
What do these three brands have in common? All three of them are multibillion dollar companies. Billion with a ‘b’.
All three have expanded beyond their original business focus.
None of them would be as successful as they are today or even in existence without becoming known for their niches.
Busting the Niche Myth
Focusing on a niche helps you build a strong reputation and become the go-to brand for your audience.
Business owners shy away from niches though for fear that they will limit the brand’s potential.
This is not true.
There are three major reasons that you should develop a niche if you haven’t already, especially if your brand is struggling or on a plateau.
First because brands that succeed have become known for something and niches speed that process. Having a niche allows you to speak directly and specifically to your target market and bond with them. It frees your brand to focus on one area to develop expertise and depth beyond your competitors.
Second, niches position your brand well for repeat business. The expertise your brand develops makes it the first and often only stop for your target audience. Getting to know your audience’s needs and wants in depth, you can often develop companion and additional products to serve them.
Repeat business is much cheaper to acquire than new business. It is also less expensive to service and more likely to prompt referrals.
Third, niches work in your favor because developing a specialty creates a halo of competence around your brand, giving it credibility to expand later.
How Narrow Should Your Niche Be?
I can see the trepidation in your eyes. What if make my niche too narrow? Won’t that hurt my brand?
It is true that you need sufficient market demand to support your brand.
But it is rare that a brand defines its niche too narrowly. It is way more common for brands to cheat their niche by extending themselves into other markets or products that don’t fit the niche.
Cheating undermines the benefits of a niche by not establishing the niche sufficiently or at all. It is the niche that helps your brand rise above competitors.
Don’t be afraid to go narrow.
Narrow enough so that your audience feels your brand is the exact solution they seek.
Even the Golf Channel is a billion-dollar business. Who knew?
For me, the Golf Channel would be a sleep aid. But my husband is riveted.
Know also that there is leeway to course correct your niche if you go too narrow at the onset.
Airbnb, another multibillion dollar business, began in an overly narrow niche. The business was conceived as creative lodging to fill the overflow demand that hotels could not accommodate in a city hosting a large conference. The founders targeted conferences like South by Southwest and the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
How did they figure out the need to broaden the niche?
By audience request. Their target audience, the customers they already had, asked to use the service on vacation or for business in cities where there was no conference. The founders noticed they were saying ‘no’ to their customers often and then struggling to find enough conference circumstances to generate revenue.
That’s when the light bulb to broaden shone.
Chances are that if you are reading this your brand is already somewhat established. If that is true, your risk of going too narrow is slim.
Find Your Brand’s Niche Sweet Spot
So how do you find your brand’s niche?
You look at your best customers and the work your brand does best. You use the Pareto principle, that 20 percent of your efforts result in 80 percent of your revenue. Identify the 20 percent.
You look for common themes and threads through your business and all of your brand’s constituencies. Where does your brand shine?
Niches can be:
Unique solutions to specific problems or conditions.
- Airbnb solves travelers’ desire to feel like they belong in foreign locations.
- Spanx addresses “wardrobe woes,” helping women look polished.
Well-defined target audiences such as specific industries or groups of people.
- Gemfind specializes in websites and digital strategy for jewelers.
- Underarmour serves the “scrappy outsider” athlete, the one who patiently looks on during the first few rounds of the draft pick and works to beat the odds.
- Life is Good spreads optimism.
- Patagonia attracts people who have “a love of wild and beautiful places” and who want to “implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
- California Raisins benefit from the state’s reputation as a sunny environment.
- Canadian Maple Syrup has a quality reputation buoyed by the country’s maple leaf symbol.
Product-based, if the product is highly specialized.
- Swiss Army Knives remain the authentic multipurpose tool that many military users and campers seek.
- Rolex is synonymous with luxury watches.
Economic. (Though I am not a fan of this angle.)
- Neiman Marcus appeals to high-end shoppers.
- Wal-Mart is positioned as the retailer that helps you save money.
Niches Differentiate and Reward Your Brand
Niches are the best way to differentiate your brand. They are the best unkept secret to brand success.
Yet so many business owners shy away from them.
Like the pediatrician who does not treat their own children, you may need an objective pair of eyes to help you identify and qualify your brand’s niche.
Get help if you need it. Chances are your brand’s niche will be more of a V-8 moment than an out-of-the-blue angle.
Be brave and implement a niche for your brand. Done well, your bravery will be rewarded with easier marketing, more business and permission to focus. You’ll be surprised how much easier life gets when you can focus.
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