When considering potential products and services to offer, it can be useful to look at the nature of the target audiences involved. Inbound marketing based on niche communities represent the ultimate dream for retailers that want to sell direct at incredible margins. Some groups can be more readily persuaded to buy online and to help evangelize a product solution.
So what does an ideal niche look like? Here’s a checklist of desirable audience traits to test product ideas against.
Traits of an ideal niche audience
Readily targetable – using advertising or organic means, it’s possible to make content and messaging available to your group. Having a unique user persona is great but it will be of limited use if you’re not able to identify similar users in the marketplace or to reach them.
Impressionable – Some groups are more open to persuasion than others. Users that follow influencers on social media or that read learning publications or videos, show that they are interested in advice and suggestions.
Self-motivated – Offering utilitarian products has its place. For the small brand selling online though, it’s especially helpful to operate in an industry where the users are motivated by personal passion. That could be a cause, a personal hobby, a mark of individualism or other thing that generates emotion.
Buying power – Audience members should be willing and able to buy online. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ultra wealthy as long as they have some discretionary income. These users should be comfortable moving from browse to purchase without getting overly caught up with privacy or security concerns.
Part of a community – If there isn’t a place to discuss the industry you can always create something and add value by cultivating it. But it’s even better if there’s an existing one that you can leverage and participate in. Online discussion boards or meetups provide a great way to hear from potential customers directly and you can mine the existing chatter for clues about what motivates purchasing behavior.
Example Niches – Meat Thermometers and Carbide Chisels
Hobbyists that don’t do work as a professional but that want to dabble are a prime opportunity for niche brands. There are plenty of weekend warriors that want to buy their way into upping their game, whatever that game may be. One example of a brand that benefits from this kind of audience is Thermoworks, who is the undisputed leader in digital meat thermometers. Chefs swear by the Thermapen, considered the Cadillac of instant read thermometers for its accuracy and speed. Home chefs likely have very little need for a thermometer that can measure accurately to the tenth of a degree, or that can create a readout in 3 seconds instead of 10 seconds. But if they just spent thousands on a new outdoor kitchen and want to follow their Big Green Egg recipes closely, spending $100 to get the best thermometer seems worth it. This kind of narrow focus has allowed Thermoworks to attain an enviable market leader position and they have such a cult following that they can afford to avoid marketplaces like Amazon.com entirely.
The content opportunity for brands catering to a specific niche is to show the output that pros get out of their high end tools. By demonstrating what’s possible, ambitious amateurs are offered a tempting shortcut to improving their own skills. And while huge hobby categories like woodworking have been crowded with vendors forever, there are sub-categories with specialized tools like creating bowls from stumps through wood turning. As an interested beginner you can get a cheap set of chisels from Harbor Freight to do the job. But if you want to use the tools that the big accounts on Instagram use to create their works of art, you’ll have to pop for a premium brand like Robert Sorby and their titanium-nitride Turnmaster with tungsten carbide cutting head.
So where do you go to find categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories? Communities are a good place to start. Anywhere people organize to discuss their passions and hobbies can be a great source for ideas. There is a seemingly unending supply of obscure subreddits where users discuss their unique needs and preferred brands. Sites like subredditstats.com can help to identify groups that are gaining momentum. Meetup.org is another place to see how people self-identify around interests. This can be a good way to spot emerging trends to seek out new opportunities. Axe throwing, whiskey tasting and creating and ice carousels have only recently become relatively mainstream and each have their own accompanying set of specialized accessories.
Moving in and taking over
Once a community is identified, it’s best to create a product offering at the high end of the market to command the best prices, presuming you can demonstrate that your product is obviously much better than the others. But that is easier said than done, especially for lucrative niche markets. As an alternative, you can position yourself as the affordable version of an existing brand (like RTIC did for YETI) or create an ordering experience that’s faster or easier than the rest (like Bulk Reef Supply did for salt water aquarium hobbyists) or another way of differentiating from the current line up. The products may seem weird to the general public, but to the right audience they’re the stuff of dreams.
There are plenty of reasons to like podcast advertising. One reason that might be known to interrogators but not obvious to the rest of us is the podcast audience’s state of mind while consuming content and its vulnerability to suggestion.
Podcast ad revenue
Spending on podcast advertising continues to grow at a blistering pace. According to IAB, ad revenue growth jumped from $69 million among the largest companies surveyed in 2015 to $119 million in 2016 and a forecasted $220 million in 2017.
It’s not too difficult to see why podcasting is a hot market. Advertisers are seeing the value in the direct relationship between host and listeners. With production costs low compared to other mediums, there are shows dedicated to very niche topics, with hosts passionate about their material. That makes them an influencer with that community, with credibility and remarkable recommendation power. Compared to digital display ads, podcasting offers a much less competitive landscape that’s naturally ad-blocker resistant.
In addition to these benefits, podcasts are unique because of the setting they’re consumed in. Subscribers often listen while doing other activities, including exercising. Distance runners, weight lifters and all kinds of athletes that train in long stretches need something to pass the time and podcasts are a wonderful solution. The reason that’s important to advertisers is that physical fatigue can bring down our mental defenses and make us more likely to be influenced by suggestion.
According to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, individuals that are fatigued show a greater susceptibility to yielding to leading questions. This is one of the reasons that intense interrogations are often preceded by periods of sleep deprivation. Taken too far, this technique is so successful it can lead to false confessions. During an intense workout, podcast listeners are more likely to be convinced and influenced by effective ad messaging.
The interrogator analogy paints an alarming picture with advertisers playing the role of brain-washer. But our malleability during physical training can be empowering for the listener too. If you’re having a hard time making a positive change, physical exertion may be a catalyst for internalization when combined with audio messages.
The idea of inserting persuasive messaging during physical work is nothing new. Drill sergeants and football coaches have been using the tactics forever, repeating their favorite mantras while their target audience sweats. And judging by college football TV it works; just listen to athlete interviews and count the number of internalized messages that are dredged up when put on the spot.
Brands that advertise on a podcast that’s consumed while exercising now get their turn to play coach.
User personas are great tools for focusing messaging and keeping your users’ motivations at the forefront when developing content and products. A classic way of displaying a user persona internally is through a visual poster that can be hung on a wall. To add more color, and to make things more practical, you can pull the profile off of the wall and onto the screen with web advertising.
The interest map
To start, create a new user profile on your OS. This will make it easy to switch profiles and not contaminate one group of data with another.
Then, start creating a digital footprint with your user’s pain points in mind. In the fictional example of Mary Manning, she’s a middle aged real estate agent who lives in Nashville. Based on her user persona, she may visit sites about marketing, look at products that she can use in her real estate career and of course do some social networking.
Creating click streams that advertisers will tap into will take some work. Spread the task over days or weeks to build a robust click stream. To make it easier for them to identify and target your persona, make sure to fill out profiles with the big data collectors like Facebook and Twitter. Retargeting campaigns are especially prevalent on the web so visit some content and product sites that may have a budget to lure you back. If you click on a web advertisement to begin a visit, you’re more likely to be tracked and put into a retargeting bucket.
Viewing the Results
After ‘Mary’ has made her interests and shopping patterns known, you can start to see how her world is impacted by other advertisements, providing great context for your own messaging strategy. Browsing general interest sites like local news pages and weather forecasts should start to reveal which companies are spending money to reach your ideal users.
After spending some time walking in Mary’s shoes, you might be surprised to learn which companies are dominating her attention, especially if they are not a direct competitor for your product or service.
Treat your personas’ digital footprints as assets, updating the stream once in a while. Then you can tap into a live picture of her world any time you need to, and get a real picture of her potential experience online, based on real (virtual) world conditions.
January can be tough for a lot of reasons. Daylight hours are short and the weather is often gray. The excitement of Christmas and the new year are over and settling back into daily responsibilities can be daunting.
I wanted to share a suggestion for battling the Winter Blahs: running with podcasts.
Cold weather running with podcasts
Body and Mind
Running (or another form of exercise) is known to be a good way to boost moods and to reduce anxiety. I’m recommending running because of its availability. There’s no gym or equipment required and as a solo activity, it’s always available on your schedule.
Podcasts have been around a long time now and are enjoying a kind of renaissance lately. I’m new to the podcast party but have been making up for lost time, listening in to all kinds of shows whenever I find the chance to listen. Podcasts really work for mood when paired with running.
Running provides an extended amount of time to listen to a show or shows without mental distractions and while your brain is enjoying those exercise endorphins. Choose a podcast that’s inspiring or challenging and double down on the positivity. An engaging podcast can distract from the pain and monotony of a long run too. The two activities really are complementary.
Favorite podcasts to run to
TED Talks – Everyone loves these talks and for good reason. They’re smart, inspirational and uplifting. Most presentations translate well into the audio-only format and range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
Interviews and Biographies – By surrounding yourself with great minds you gain a new perspective for what’s possible.
History – Podcasts are a great format for learning important lessons from history without cracking open a thick textbook. These shows offer a peak into history’s best stories and characters in an entertaining way.
Spiritual Development – Sermons and interviews work nicely for a 30-60 minute run. Especially when you’re running outside, this can be a great time to connect with the Lord and to gain an eternal perspective on the stresses of the day.
Business Skills and Case Studies – See what you can learn by listening to show regularly and hearing what other professionals have achieved.
Some podcasts are quite long or take several episodes to tell a story. You can use that to your advantage by linking podcast listening with your runs. If you only allow yourself to listen to a certain show while you’re running you’ll have another reason to get out and run.
Download episodes on wifi before you leave instead of streaming to save on data and to avoid interruptions when you’re outside of good cell coverage.
I came across a tactic worth testing and thought I’d share. For content marketers utilizing Pinterest, this simple tip could help boost click through rate from Pins and referral traffic to your site.
For brands showing their products in action in a Results Pin, try offering a small version on Pinterest, say 300 pixels wide, and holding back the high resolution one for your website. With a simple call to action in text, you can encourage users to view the bigger, nicer image hosted on your site. Those that want a good look at your beautiful image will need to leave Pinterest to get it.
On your site, you may choose to show your image on a page that includes call outs to your other content marketing (e.g. a gallery of similar images), links to the products featured in the image or simply your store’s site navigation.
With digital communication tools everywhere, there has never been more data available to marketers about users. It seems like we shouldn’t have a problem building rich profiles of user behaviors, interests and motivators. But the chance to create deep personalization all hinges on a single question that brands must ask for each point of data: Who are you?Linking behavior to identity can be extremely tricky online, with users using multiple devices and operating under any number of user names, accounts and aliases.
Finding an identifier for an individual used to be as simple as reaching for the White Pages. Once you had a name and a town, there was little confusion about who you were dealing with. Now there requires a variety of efforts of figuring out who is who, including home address, social media handles, cookies, accounts, 3rd party tagging services and the standard social security number. Of all the ways to pin down an id, cell phone and email have become the most useful.
Limits of cookies
The standard way of tracking behavior for sites, user cookies, is still effective. But it falls short in an increasingly multi-device world. Since cookies are stored on the user’s local machine, your site may not recognize them when they return from their tablet. And cookies have always had built in challenges from multiple users using the same machine in a public setting or at home. Have you ever seen ads show up while browsing on the home computer that were more appropriate for your spouse than for you?
Cell phones and email
Phone numbers and email addresses are more of a true identifier since they are permanent for most people. Both are seldom switched in real life and actually facilitate contact. If you want someone to be able to actually reach you, you’ve got to make your phone number known. Relying on any email is problematic, since it’s easy for users to have multiple email accounts including disposable or ‘junk’ addresses. So for the purposes of evaluating the value of data points, I’m referring to actual personal email addresses that receive expected mail. The cell phone number is probably the ideal unique key for keeping track of users in theory. With the ability to port numbers to any new phone, most consumers are loathe to switch their number for any reason and numbers are not quite as easy to fake.
Email for the win
The issue that tips the scales in favor of email is collection. Users aren’t as likely to share their phone number with brands and if they do, they don’t expect to receive marketing messages by call or by text. There are so many more opportunities to collect and use emails. Email addresses are readily shared, especially in return for valuable content. If they do sign up for a newsletter, brands can append their hyperlinks with a unique userid in case customers are consuming emails on a different device. They are also the standard username for social sites, which helps sites with social log-in features to link together separate visits to the same user.
The best choice of all is to make use of all identification opportunities and utilize them to tailor experiences as much as possible. But all data points available to collect are not created equal. Email will serve as the best foundation for building a robust personalized experience for users.
We talked a while back about how the moment the customer opens their shipment is the climax of the customer experience and the ultimate single make or break point for brand delivery. By that time, the results are beyond our control as marketers. Once the product leaves the warehouse, the die is cast. Before we get to that point though, we do have chances to influence the final impression. It’s our job to tip the scales in our favor as much as we can. To do that, we must build anticipation for the solution that our customer is waiting for until they can’t wait to tear open the package when it finally does arrive. The only real caution here is to avoid setting expectations beyond what your product or service can deliver. The product has to come first and I’m assuming that we’ve already got something that does its job. And it’s always wise to save a few surprises for the very end. In the meantime though, there are plenty of ways to whet the appetite.
Make estimated delivery updates available at each phase of completion
Offer a photo or PDF of your customer’s custom product before it’s boxed up and email it
Display happy testimonials on your order confirmation emails
Send an email with tips and suggestions on how to use their product in the days before it arrives
Mail a handwritten thank you note on the purchase date or email a short comment that is unique to them
I’m sure you can think up many others. These are not cheap marketing tricks though. Anticipation is part of the customer experience. And it’s an opportunity for us to increase customer satisfaction because people want it. The process surrounding a product is part of the product. Once you’ve created a pleasant expectation in your customer’s mind, they’re very likely to have a positive ultimate experience (unless you completely botch the job.) Think of how good a bakery smells in the morning. Once you’ve got idea of a warm, tasty bagel in your mind, and spend 5 minutes waiting to get a fresh one, chances are you’re going to be happy when you get it. Most of the time the reason behind this dynamic of persuasion is cognitive dissonance – people don’t want to disagree with themselves. When you buy shoes online, you’re placing your trust in that shoe retailer. You’ve paid your money and, in a sense, placed a bet that you’ve picked out the right company. You want your decision to be affirmed as a good one and will tend to lean toward that conclusion when the shoes arrive. One of the old sales tricks that salespeople employ is to get the prospect saying yes, even if it’s not directly related to a sale. Once they start saying yes to the small things, they’ll be more likely to keep saying yes. In our case, they’ve already said yes to the big question; they’ve made a purchase. We’re trying to keep the momentum going past the sale and into the product unboxing. By maintaining contact with customer pre-delivery, you’re making that pull toward a happy conclusion a little stronger. In various ways, you’re telling them ‘you made a good decision, you’re going to be happy when your product arrives, you are a smart shopper…’ Once the customers internalize those messages, they’ll start repeating them to themselves and others, expanding your branding statements even further.What are some ways that you can create positive anticipation that can add to your customer’s experience?
LinkedIn.com is as close to a comprehensive business directory as there is and usually reveals a lot about a company’s make up. But if you’ve ever tried to track down business leads, site owners or potential partners, you’ve probably had trouble locating the right person to contact at some point. Try this trick to get more names out of LinkedIn and locate that key person.
Let’s say you’re trying to get in touch with Pixar to show them your new promotional product. You start by searching for “marketing pixar” in LinkedIn’s search box.After browsing the results, you think the person with the title “Marketing and Promotions at Pixar Animation Studios” would be the perfect one to contact. By clicking through you can see work, education and connection details but the name of the contact is listed as private. Bummer. Without a name it’s difficult to go much further. Here’s what you do.
Scroll down the mystery contact’s profile until you see the section labeled “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” You’ll see the names of other people that are closely associated with your contact. Try clicking on a few of them. If you find one that’s in your network (even a 3rd degree contact) you’ll see their profile page. Going back to our Pixar example, viewers of our target’s profile also viewed the Director of Worldwide Publicity. Since we apparently have some friends in common, I’m able to click through to her profile.
Once I’ve got Robin’s profile page open, I can scroll down to her “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” section. Because she’s closely associated with our “Marketing and Promotions” target, chances are that person will appear in her list. And she does! Using the title that we saw on the private profile page, along with background info that is available on private pages like education, we can confidently match the two and identify the mystery contact.
Depending on her privacy settings, you can now click through to her detail profile or just note the name and do some additional research on Google.
And that’s it. It’s one of those tips that doesn’t work every time but it may help in your research. Happy hunting!
Shopping online is great for selection. It seems that no matter what you’re after, you can easily find multiple vendors willing to ship it to your door. The age old knock on e-commerce is that you don’t get your hands on your product before you buy. Or even after you buy – not immediately anyway. You have to wait.
That’s why your heartbeat might speed up a bit when you spy a brown box on your front step. The virtual experience you had a few days before has now shown up in the real world. You’ve already paid and endured the waiting and now the payoff is here. Will the product be right or will you be disappointed? There is even more anxiety if you’re trying a new vendor – are they legitimate? Or did you just get ripped off by a shady scammer?
Once the box is opened, all is revealed. It’s a make or break moment for an online business. How the customer reacts will determine whether or not they remember your name, how they’ll review you online and what they’ll tell their friends. The moment of unboxing can be great for business or it can be a lost opportunity for growth.
In Pow! Right Between the Eyes, Andy Nulman encourages marketers to use the power of surprise to make an impression. It’s relatively easy, can be extremely inexpensive and remarkably effective. So why not apply that wisdom to the critical moment of unboxing and give yourself the chance to maximize the opportunity?
That’s just what MFM Apparel does when they deliver their unique t-shirts, illustrated with quirky characters. The resident artist, Saman, draws a small cartoon and message for each order that goes out the door. It’s an unexpected, personal touch that reaches customers at that critical moment. The rest of the process was pretty mundane when I shopped at MFM – browse for a shirt, check out online and wait for it to show up in the mail. The shirt was delivered in a boring white mailer too. But the surprise message inside was fun and memorable – surprises usually are. And during the unboxing, the fun of the unexpected extra rubs off on the product which rubs off on the vendor. And here we are.
If you’re selling online, consider carefully what your customers will experience when they open up your box. And if you’re interested in powerful word of mouth marketing, consider using the element of surprise to make sure that experience is a positive one.
The recent explosion of information and tools available through the internet has changed things in a variety of industries. One industry that is slow to be transformed? The professional services: painters, landscapers, movers, appliance repair, etc. Whenever I look for someone to help me with one of those tasks, I’m amazed at how stuck in the past these vendors are. That makes it a real opportunity for someone willing to get with the times. The experience of hiring a contractor is a little unsettling. When looking for a furnace repairman for example, you’ve got to find someone qualified for the job even though you don’t know much about furnaces. What questions do you ask? What is a reasonable price? Am I inviting a weirdo into my house?
Ultimately, the issue comes down to trust. Trust is everything to contractors.
Getting people to trust you is tricky. It’s hard to put customers at ease, especially if they have just shelled out a bunch of money. Most vendors don’t help the matter at all with their behavior. I’ve found that even simple acts that build trust like calling someone back when you say you will or showing up on time are missed by your average painter or handyman. Here’s where technology can help. The internet can be a great equalizer. Small operations can use design templates to create a good looking website that will be miles ahead of the crappy designs that typify contractor sites. Using basic SEO practices, a 2-man lawn mowing service can rank for relevant keywords, boosting their credibility. (Because these jobs are performed by local contractors, ranking for local terms is very doable.) Blogging is a great opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build trust too.
Tech savvy companies could really stand out if thought about using new services creatively. Why not use Google Voice to ring multiple phones from the same 800 number and manage voicemail quote requests online? Or allow customers to see a live schedule for estimates on a website and book their own time? Or offer GPS tracking of service trucks so customers can know when to expect their service person to arrive?
The amazing thing is that the tools to do these things aren’t prohibitively expensive or hard to use. They’re cheap or even free. And for these types of jobs, each additional sign up is huge. A typical painting job might be worth $2,500 and keep a crew busy for the better part of a week.
So why don’t more professionals take advantage of the free tools available? I’m not sure. I think it has to do with the fact that often times the same person fixing your plumbing is the one handling lead generation. They are focused on their trade and don’t want to think about the business side more than they have to. Marketing is something to get out of the way so you can get on with your work. If that’s right, technology can’t help after all. The effort needs to come first.
For a company willing to try new things though, today’s tools present an opportunity for extremely efficient marketing which costs very little money. The industry will change eventually so this opportunity is only available for a limited time.