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How to Identify and Reach Underserved Markets Go beyond demographics by targeting specific types of people.

By Russ Fradin

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

So, you think you have all your online marketing bases covered? Sure, you may be reaching moms over 40 with your super smoothie maker ad and men between 30 and 60 with your online golf resale marketplace offer, but reaching potential customers online should be more than simply broadcasting ads to large demographic sets. The online market is packed with various ethnicities, interests, lifestyles, religious affiliations and more. Many of these niche audiences are expanding rapidly and are made up of millions of potential customers that you might not have considered before because they were one step removed from your obvious targets.

Before we go further, let's make it clear that this article will discuss specifically how entrepreneurs can reach niche audiences primarily through specialized ad networks. For those unfamiliar, ad networks are an aggregation of websites on which you can advertise to reach your target audience, wherever they are, with one advertising purchase. They alleviate the burden of coordinating advertising across multiple websites, and they measure your success. Ad networks can be an extremely useful tool to raise awareness online and increase brand recognition and influence among niche audiences.

Identifying Potential Niche Audiences
The first step in improving your marketing effectiveness is identifying niche--and perhaps underserved--audiences that would react best to your brand.

Let's say you own a chain of hardware stores. Your first inclination may be to float your ad budget to a major sports website where you can get millions of impressions within a primarily male audience. Seems like a no-brainer. However, you can reap major benefits if you break it down even further. You sell do-it-yourself goods. Consider advertising on auto aftermarket sites where DIY'ers flock. Even though the sites aren't focused on home repairs, the personality of the visitors fits the personality of your audience.

When you think about your audience based on things like interests, ethnicities or religions, rather than just demographics, you open up a much broader range of opportunities to reach them on sites that are contextually relevant and where your message can stand out. Of course, finding niche audiences online isn't easy, but it can really pay off.

Finding Audiences Online
Once you spend some time narrowing down the characteristics and interests of people that would be most likely to invest in your product or service, you can begin a search for networks that will deliver your content directly to those individuals.

You'll want to look at the properties of various sites within a network and evaluate them based on size, topic and value. Analyzing the actual value of a property rather than solely the size and topic is critical. The proper way to measure value is to look at the following:

  • Audience: To what extent does the network represent the audience you're trying to reach? And, how engaged is that audience? Does the network bring insights you can use to tailor your message to this audience?
  • Influence: How credible are the sources when it comes to content? Analyze the differences between reading an article on a top news site and then on a small blog--both of which can be extremely useful if the content is influencing the right audience. Who's following the site where your ads will be?
  • Relevance: This one's pretty straight-forward. Are your ads contextually relevant to the audience?
  • Quality: Does the media company present itself in an attractive and compelling way? Additionally, will your brand be safe on this site or is there the possibility that your ad will be placed next to potentially damaging material?

If the value of the properties doesn't add up, take a pass. But if you find a content specialist that works with thousands of targeted sites and can deliver your message to passionate audiences, you'll be on your way to some serious profits.

Consider Creating Your Own Network
Some entrepreneurs go as far as to create their own ad networks to target their audiences. For example, Franklin Phillips, a South Asian American entrepreneur and owner of Samosa Cabana Indian Grill in New York, decided to do something about the fact that there was no effective way for him and others like him to reach their target market, South Asian Americans. The South Asian American population in the US has a 53 percent annual growth rate and $20 billion in buying power, yet, just a year ago, business owners and marketers like Franklin could not find a resource to effectively deliver their online ads to this rapidly growing and prosperous population. Franklin launched the Samosa Digital Network, an ad network comprised of websites targeted to South Asian Americans. Businesses wanting to reach this audience can now do so with one ad buy on the Samosa Digital Network, which will deliver ads across all of those sites.

Franklin's story is not a stand-alone; in fact, more and more entrepreneurs and business owners alike are taking the lead and creating their own avenues to reaching niche audiences online. For example:

  • The Gay Ad Network and the Lesbian Ad Network were both created due to similar circumstances. It is estimated that one in 20 U.S. citizens identifies himself or herself as homosexual, which would mean there are more than 30 million gay Americans. The Gay Ad Network already receives more than six million unique users each month and, according to comScore, has the number one reach in the gay and lesbian category as a whole. A network that was non-existent just three years ago is now the top network giving gay-friendly brands the ability to reach their target audience.
  • Digital Throttle launched in April and is one of the only networks to give marketers the ability to reach automotive aftermarket enthusiasts, a $277 billion market in the U.S. While many people view their vehicles as mere modes of transportation, Digital Throttle helps marketers reach those passionate individuals who use their cars, trucks and motorcycles as a recreational outlet, lifestyle and hobby. Rather than simply targeting the entire male population, marketers of aftermarket products have the ability to reach this massive niche audience that is most likely to invest in their products.

If you're serious about increasing your brand's reach this year, putting the effort into identifying your top niche audiences is extremely important. The good news is that those groups waiting to hear from you already exist. You may just have to spend a little extra time monitoring them and advertising to them.

Russ Fradin is the president and co-founder of Adify .

Russ is a digital media industry veteran with more than 15 years' experience in the online marketing world.

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