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.
A higher cost purchase can be a factor but the mental energy involved doesn’t necessarily line up with the dollars involved. Consider a few especially tricky decisions and some easy ones, at all different costs.
Buying a new car $$$$
Selecting a new phone and plan $$
Hiring a contractor to work on your house $$$
Picking a gift for a new girlfriend $
Vacation souvenirs $$
Specialized products with a clear leader (e.g. WeatherTech car floor liners) $-$$$
Renewing existing services like insurance $$ (Conversely, selecting a new provider can be very taxing.)
Favorite dishes at known restaurants $
Certain purchases can feel like an ordeal. For brands in e-Commerce, the goal is to remove as much of the mental labor required to make a purchase decision. Some of the things that exasperate users and contribute to mental weight include:
Opaque costs and terms – it’s mentally taxing to try and figure out where the catches are and how we might be getting taken advantage of.
Unfamiliar settings – making decisions in a new city or in an industry new to you can leave you feeling disadvantaged.
Convoluted options and dependencies – if it’s too difficult to consider various scenarios, the customer starts to feel overwhelmed.
Visibility – if your purchase choice is very public there’s added pressure to get it right.
Incomplete information – it’s tougher to make a confident decision with unknowns in play.
Unclear product lineup – sorting through tiers of service, model generations and variations can be tough if the differences aren’t well communicated.
Mapping user personas and customer journeys can help to illustrate the state of mind of those who might be considering a specific product or service. Consider how hard they need to work at making a buying choice and how you can reduce some of the mental energy required.
And there are new business opportunities for companies that find a way to make high dollar purchases with difficult purchase processes more enjoyable.
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.