Q: What should we know before our company goes after a niche market?
A: Most companies, whether big or small, direct their marketing to select niche audiences. Even the country's largest manufacturers target carefully pinpointed market segments to maximize the effectiveness of their programs and often tackle different niches for each product group. Hewlett-Packard, for example, markets all-in-one machines that print, fax and scan to segments of the home office market, while targeting larger businesses for higher-priced, single-function units.
Niche marketing can be extremely cost-effective. For instance, imagine you offer a product or service that's just right for a select demographic or ethnic group in your area, such as Hispanics or Asians. You could advertise on ethnic radio stations, which have considerably lower rates than stations that program for broader audiences. So your marketing budget would go a lot further, allowing you to advertise with greater frequency or to use a more comprehensive media mix.
Taking on a new niche can be a low-risk way to grow your business, as long as you keep in mind several important rules:
1. Meet their unique needs. The benefits you promise must have special appeal to the market niche. What can you provide that's new and compelling? Identify the unique needs of your potential audience, and look for ways to tailor your product or service to meet them.
Start by considering all the product or service variations you might offer. When it comes to marketing soap, for example, not much has changed over the years. But suppose you were a soap maker and you invented a new brand to gently remove chlorine from swimmers' hair. You'd have something uniquely compelling to offer a niche market--from members of your neighborhood pool to the Olympic swim team.
2. Say the right thing. When approaching a new market niche, it's imperative to speak their language. In other words, you should understand the market's "hot buttons" and be prepared to communicate with the target group as an understanding member--not an outsider. In addition to launching a unique campaign for the new niche, you may need to alter other, more basic elements, such as your company slogan if it translates poorly to another language, for example.
In instances where taking on a new niche market is not impacted by a change in language or customs, it's still vital to understand its members' key issues and how they prefer to communicate with companies like yours. For example, suppose a business that markets leather goods primarily to men through a Web site decides to target working women. Like men, working women appreciate the convenience of shopping on the Web, but they expect more content so that they can comprehensively evaluate the products and the company behind them. To successfully increase sales from the new niche, the Web marketer would need to change the way it communicates with them by expanding its site along with revising its marketing message.
3. Always test-market. Before moving ahead, assess the direct competitors you'll find in the new market niche and determine how you will position against them. For an overview, it's best to conduct a competitive analysis by reviewing competitors' ads, brochures and Web sites, looking for their key selling points, along with pricing, delivery and other service characteristics.
But what if there is no existing competition? Believe it or not, this isn't always a good sign. True, it may mean that other companies haven't found the key to providing a product or service this niche will want to buy. However, it's also possible that many companies have tried and failed to penetrate this group. Always test-market carefully to gauge the market's receptiveness to your product or service and message. And move cautiously to keep your risks manageable.