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.
We live in a consumer society and we all have our wants. Until recently, most people have kept their material desires to themselves for the most part. Going around talking about all the things we wish we had has been considered tacky, makes us look ungrateful and overly materialistic. If you’ve ever asked someone what they want for Christmas, you may have gotten an answer like ‘oh, anything is fine’ or ‘I don’t need a gift.’
It’s hard to imagine a public place where people would brazenly talk about what they secretly covet. And where other people would willingly listen to these lists of wants, interacting with them 24 hours a day. But that’s what’s happening now on Pinterest and it opens a new, unique source of insights into our private motivations.
When you first sign up at Pinterest they have a list of interest categories to help you get started pinning and creating boards. They include categories like ‘products’ and board suggestions like ‘my style’, which are filled with pins of products and shopping ideas.
All of the product pinning is offered in the name of self expression. What we buy says something about ourselves and on Pinterest, users express themselves with boards named “Want Want Want” and “Shut up and take my money.” The coffee snob might say if you want to know him, you need to know that he loves coffee and identifies with the idea of taking a little extra time and effort for the things he values. So here’s a pin of his favorite fine coffee-making contraption.
It’s all internally justified because along with self-expression, users are adding value by curating their boards, identifying the best products so others don’t have to. And it does add value. This Is Why I’m Broke’s boards are hilarious and I’ve often never seen those products before seeing them there. Follow This Is Why I’m Broke’s board This Is Why I’m Broke on Pinterest.
It does bring up an interesting application for Pinterest as they seek to make money off of the 30 billion things that are already pinned on the site. They are controlling a very unique and potentially powerful source of data on consumer buying behavior.
For all the talk about big data these days, B2C companies are still left trying to figure out consumer preferences and tendencies indirectly. They take in lots of data points in an effort to infer what customers may want to buy. The resulting targeting options for advertisers typically amount to looking at the attributes of the people that are buying and then assuming that other people with similar attributes will be likely to buy as well. By contrast, Pinterest can say exactly which individuals are interested in a product with almost perfect accuracy.
In addition, seeing affinities between interests is much more definite based on Pinterest’s data. Brands could look at those who have purchased or pinned their products and see what other things they’re interested in, improving their knowledge of customers and opening up new partnership opportunities. A company that finds a strong correlation between their product and another company’s could bid on related keywords for paid search ads, for example.
Companies could also gain insights on how consumers perceive their brand. What is the cost of the other products on the board? How are products organized together within the user’s boards? What words do the users use to describe the pins and the boards? It’s all there in the data.
As expected, Pinterest is moving into Sponsored Pins as their first advertising product. The targeting options there are still basic, the same kinds of things you might find on Facebook and Twitter. No offerings on business intelligence have emerged yet. It will be interesting to see if they can find a way to leverage the enormous amounts of data they’ve collected on buyer intent to come up with a new kind of ad product we’ve never seen before.
In a follow up to yesterday’s post on evaluating potential linking sites in bulk, here’s one more way to use your new lists of links
Once you’ve pulled down all of the links from a round up page like social-media.alltop.com, you’ve got a list of authoritative sources on a niche topic. If it’s a subject that you’re interested in keeping up on, you can create a Google Custom Search Engine based on your list.
Then, when you’re interested in what the social media pundits have to say about a news item, or if you’re interested in finding posts that combine a specific idea (say coffee for example) with your niche’s point of view, instead of doing a general Google search and getting all kinds of results, you can restrict your queries to your handpicked list of experts in that niche.
And don’t forget that you can add advanced search operators such as date range to your CSE search by appending the results URL
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!
It seems like all my posts lately have been about Google Reader in one way or another. So let’s keep it going!
Just a small observation today: when reading posts in Reader, all posts are presented in the place and in the same way. That’s a good thing for info-holics but it can also be dangerous.
For the most part, the text formatting, professional graphic design, additional content and the overall ‘feel’ of the source site is stripped away in Reader leaving you with just the article itself. That’s great for avoiding distractions, especially when you don’t have to contend with mortgage ads or the dreaded auto-play videos that some sites insist on using. But some of those things (professional layout, the content that surrounds the article, etc) are indicators of authority that you just don’t get in Reader.
If you’re like me, you organize Reader feeds using folders. That puts all of your sources for news, which have varying levels of trustworthiness, in the same place with very little to distinguish between them. In Reader, all sources are presented equally.
That’s good news for small publishers or business that offer RSS feeds – your content will appear right alongside the big time news outfits. It’s dangerous to consumers who are digging through a large volume of news in Reader. Without a good mental filter, it’s easy to take in all of that information as if it’s been reviewed by an editor and appropriately vetted when in reality it can come from any rube with a laptop.
I put myself in that category and have caught myself reacting to information before considering the source carefully enough. It’s especially tempting to take news and run when it’s niche or industry content that major outlets might not have or if it’s breaking, juicy news. (See Brett Farve’s latest retirement proclamation, based on second hand emails and spread via Twitter.)
Staying on top of trends is a key to serving consumer markets. Companies that can identify trends and react are at a natural advantage.
With so many potential sources for information, it can be daunting to keep an eye on the things that matter. Use a combination of Google and Firefox to make it easier.
To start, get Firefox. Then get the excellent SEO for Firefox addon installed and set up the way you like it. The plugin adds useful information and links to search engine results pages like Google’s.
Once that is ready to go, head to http://www.google.com/insights/search. There, you can get information on the topics you’re interested in. If you’re looking to sell products in the U.S., you can filter the query to only apply to product searches in your geographic area. Submit your query and you’ll get a bunch of useful tidbits. The information we’re interested in is “rising searches,” located in toward the end of the right hand column.
The rising searches section shows the queries that have recently become more popular. They aren’t the most popular over all, they’ve just been moving up lately. If the results look like the kind of thing you’re interested in, click on the icon below to add it to your iGoogle homepage.
Adding the Insights for Search gadget effectively creates a persistent search query for any term that rising up the charts. You can fill one of your tabs with a bunch of variations on your search and create a trends dashboard. Google also makes it easy to jump off of the gadget to learn more about the emerging trend. Mouse over a term, then click the g icon to go to a SERP. From there, SEO for Firefox takes over.
Instead of the regular results page, you’ll get a truck load of enhanced features that are great for research. You can see the sites that are already ranking for that term, along with their estimated traffic and number of backlinks. If the sites look weak, you could consider creating content to compete with the sites and capitalize on the emerging topic at hand.
Underneath the query box, you’ll also see other research tools. You can quickly see how much it would cost to compete with PPC ads for the term and about how often the term is searched each month.
All of these tools are already available, but the Google/Firefox combo makes the task easy enough to keep an eye on things each day.