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.
Frequency is a key element of campaign design, especially in retargeting efforts. Multiple touches usually do better than one-off messages. But additional impressions will increase the rate of spend too. It’s a balancing act to find an efficient rate of spend and a satisfactory return on investment.
Credit: Neil Patel
That’s if you’re paying for additional impressions. It works better if you can get them for free.
While adding external impressions will increase costs, mental repetitions are free. By developing creative specifically designed to enhance recall, you can increase the returns on your campaigns without breaking the budget.
Mental recall by design
There are myriad techniques for improving recall including classic advertising tactics like repetition and setting slogans to music. For more creative ideas, and to get the most drastic effects, we can look to memory champions and the mnemonics they use.
Each year the top mental performers in the US gather to compete in the USA Memory Championships. Performing feats of memorization such as recalling entire blocks of poetry upon a single exposure to it and committing hundreds of digits of random numbers to memory, they use mental tricks to help enhance recall. Our target audiences may not be focused on memorizing details but we can still employ some of the techniques used.
There are a lot of techniques that competitors use to store and recall large amounts of random information. One of the popular and effective is the Method of Ioci or constructing a mind palace. A mind palace is a mental image of a fictional place that contains rooms and other structure features that you can place items within. By leaving memorable items to trigger you memory within your palace, you can evoke memories by walking through your palace.
For example your palace may contain a kitchen, a pantry and a dining room among other rooms. To recall a 3 of clubs and 5 of hearts when memorizing a deck of cards, you might place 3 cavemen at the dining table, arguing about dinner. (Cavemen carry clubs.) They could be eating their favorite artichoke dip (fave = five, artichoke = hearts). And the story goes on from there as you walk from room to room through your palace.
According to memory experts the key to selecting effective characters and events is making them remarkable and out of the ordinary. The more absurd or emotional or personal the events the better. So cavemen are better than golfers because you don’t see them every day and artichoke dip is better for me than candy conversation hearts because I happen to actually like it. Those valentine hearts are nasty.
We can borrow that best practice for memory by using familiar settings in the creative, incorporating absurdities and using known personal preferences. Create visual ads that accomplish this by incorporating visuals that crazy, personal or emotional, or all three.
This one’s easy. Just make your creative a little more bizarre to add more potential for recall. You don’t have to go all the way to deranged, just make it something you don’t see every day.
Here’s a well put together ad campaign from Mutual Jewelers Insurance.
It takes what could be a mundane topic in insurance coverage and ads an absurd twist: a ring stealing crab. This campaign gets bonus points for using animated display ads, which grab attention, and for adding absurd words as well as visuals. There are a series of ads that each use an obscure vocabulary to describe the theft, with alliteration to boot. “Criminal crustaceans” and “beach bandits” are memorable because they’re unusual and kind of weird.
Adding emotion doesn’t have to mean making people weep or being overly serious. Your ad should evoke a feeling, the stronger the better, to boost memorability.
This image from Granite Gear is actually from their Instagram feed but is a good example of tapping into the emotions of the target audience.
The image is paired with the copy “Hang on summer, don’t leave just yet…”. Every backpacker knows the bittersweet feeling of summer winding down. Plus the image itself shows why summer is worth savoring. It depicts one of the rewards of a long hike: a peaceful sunrise after a good night’s rest in the tent. This makes good use of an emotional reaction unique to the target audience rather than going for a completely syrupy ad to try and make general consumers misty eyed.
The notorious Puppy Monkey Baby Super Bowl ad combined emotion (repulsion) with absurdity and got double the recall. But don’t let the desire to boost the stickiness of the ad overtake the brand message you’re trying to convey. It is possible to overdo it.
Memory champs incorporate their own meaningful spaces and memories into their palaces. Experiences unique to you are more likely to be recalled when referenced externally. If you’ve ever caught a whiff of a unique smell from your hometown’s factory or a special dish your mom used to make when you were young, you know how it can take you back to a host of memories.
It can be a challenge to pinpoint personal settings since everyone’s experience is unique. But you can work with experiences that are shared by your community, your experiences unique to a profession or your geography. SCUBA diving enthusiasts probably all remember the feeling of getting their certification card in the mail or downloading their underwater photos from their camera after a dive. If you are a real estate agent you probably know how it feels to cash a commission check on a hard-earned sale, memorable because of the hurdles overcome. And people within a local community probably have memories attached to the local landmarks that are popular within the area.
Spire Credit Union is squarely focused on the Midwest, and the Twin Cities in particular. Their storytelling ads are peppered with landmarks and any local will instantly recognize. This helps their brand connect as ‘one of us’ but it also helps their message stick. The next time someone in the neighborhood walks by a building or vista featured in an ad, it has the potential to trigger recall.
A little effort for a big return
Utilizing 3rd party organizations to power retargeting ads can be a great way to get feet wet and to leverage advanced segmenting tools. It’s tempting to also outsource the development of the ads themselves too. Take care not to accept the basic templated ad shells that are available out of the box. If you go beyond brand colors and logo as the extent of your customization, you have the chance to multiply the effectiveness of your campaign by leveraging mnemonics, just like a champion mental athlete.
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.
When it comes to interactions with brands, consumer expectations continue to climb. Users want to be treated as individuals, especially younger audiences that grew up immersed in digital media. This has been driving the trend in marketing toward segmentation and personalization, which generally results in better experiences and better response rates.
But mass personalization can be difficult to manage for marketing departments. The more that segment definitions explode the more there is to tailor, monitor and adjust. The solution seems to be to gather as much data as possible and to develop a robust profile on each individual contact and then to turn the content-matching task over to algorithms and machine learning. Micro-segmentation gets at the spirit of creating personalized experiences appropriate for individuals but there is a point of diminishing returns. Attempting to custom tailor messages per user shouldn’t come at the cost of efficiency of workflow or human-directed editorial work.
Marketing departments that use user personas arrive at a good compromise between no personalization and attempting to modify messaging for each unique customer. Personas hit upon the key use cases and drive focus versus trying to be everything to everybody. Making messaging work for a small number of personas is a realistic task for content editors and you don’t have to turn over your end product to a black box.
Persona template by Chase Oliver
But beyond the practical reasons for using personas for the sake of getting arms around the work, there’s another reason why they work: archetypes are a powerful way to address how users think about themselves. They provide context and understanding for the complex themes of self identify. Marketers are on one side of the equation trying to interpret what all of the data inputs on customers mean and users are on the other side trying to do the same thing. Archetypes offer a shortcut to understanding for both.
People are irrational thinkers and identity constructs are constantly in flux. A young person might consider herself a saver and financial conservative most days and yet contradict that when it comes to loves travel. If you asked her she’d probably have a hard time communicating all the complex reasons she acts the way she does. But she might reach for an archetype of her own and explain that she’s both a saver and an adventurer at heart.
Having mountains of data is always helpful but the ideal output isn’t ultra-refined segments that are one-to-one with individuals. Having well informed personas, even if they are fictional, can serve the purpose of tailoring products and messaging best. Companies look to them to bring clarity to how their product serves their key markets. And customers lean on personas to understand their own motivations and to develop a self identity.
The same person may wear a persona that doesn’t fit a company’s approach one day and then change into another that is compatible down the line.
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.
What’s the difference between the pesky magazine subscription inserts that fall into your lap when you’re trying to read an article and your personal business cards that you slaved over, shelled big bucks for and stake your reputation on? To the manufacturer, not much.
To the printer’s eye, it’s all just ink on cardstock. Ask the consumer though, and the difference is obvious: one is obnoxious advertising that you didn’t ask for, the other was co-created by you to be perfect. The difference in those points of view has never been greater and that spells opportunity for manufacturers.
(Good) Content Producers Add Value for Money Artists and content producers have long known about that ability to add value to simple production materials. That’s why Renoir canvases go for millions of dollars and your art school homework gets $5 at a garage sale. By arranging their paint or design or text in certain ways, the artist has the potential to sell their products for a profit. For the manufacturer making the materials used in production, it doesn’t help them a whole lot. It’s better than making generic widgets maybe, but the author of the content has the best chance to make the money.
Things are different these days. The modern trend of mass customization through micro-quantity manufacturing is fueling a major Do It Yourself movement. People are empowered to produce their own content and products and want to do so, to show the world how unique they are.
Digital Manufacturers Enable Production for Money This enables a really amazing opportunity for manufacturers that produce personalized stuff. Technology improvements now allow one-off production of things that used to require production runs of thousands. With the right tools in place, they can accept content produced by customers in the form of graphics, text, video, etc. and turn it into a tangible product. And sell it at a premium price. To the manufacturer equipped with digital production technology, they couldn’t care less whether they’re producing one order of 1,000 pieces or 1,000 orders of 1 piece. Except that they can charge a lot more for orders of 1 piece, even though their production costs are basically the same. After all, it’s just ink on cotton or toner on paper to them.
What happens to the content producer who sends their original design to a t-shirt shop now? They get the opportunity to see their work come to life in a real way, even if they have to pay to get it. That’s something I guess – it wasn’t even possible a few years ago. Meanwhile, the t-shirt shop that produces the item takes home a very large percentage of profit while effectively outsourcing their design development for free. At least the designer gets a cool shirt out of the deal.