Niche: it’s not them, it’s us.
I saw this phrase in a book a while ago, and it stuck with me.
Think about it. How do companies usually describe their target market?
Here are some typical phrases:
“They are women ages 24-35, married or in a relationship.”
“Our target market is senior citizens.”
“Our customers own their home. They live in the city.”
“They have two or more children.”
“They care about their appearance.”
“They go out at least twice a week.”
Notice anything? It’s them, them, them.
Yeah, alright. There are those people out there indeed. Heck, you might be one of them. Or I might.
But do any of those descriptions make you feel as part of a group? Or, better still, make you want to belong?
No, me neither.
Any time I read those stereotypical descriptions of niches – especially those I’m supposed to be a part of – the only emotion it brings out is frustration, or even anger at being pigeonholed.
And it’s even worse when I have to take those descriptions as a starting point for a creative campaign. There is nothing real to start from. There is no insight into the personalities and preferences of these people, no emotion to build upon. Just statistics, cold and empty and meaningless.
(This is why I never start with the traditional creative brief, but rather with a question and answer session, which usually lets me discover the more personal, unique qualities that I am looking for.)
Us, people. Us, not them. It’s so much easier that way.
The only way you can truly understand your customer is if you are on the same wavelength.
The best chance of getting there? Starting with shared values, interests, and concerns.
The best way to connect with your best customer is to be your best customer.
You know stuff that goes viral? Often, it has one thing in common: the creator is so enthusiastic about it, so unabashedly proud, that it’s irresistible. And contagious.
He is the first trendsetter. And others pick it up.
If your product or service truly solves a problem that has been nagging at you for some time, it becomes so much easier to brag about it. (And yes, that’s why we often feel icky about marketing. It’s essentially bragging, and we grow up thinking that bragging is bad. But telling people about something that you love is different. It’s no longer selfish. You have to share because you know it will help them, inspire them, give them something that they will absolutely love.)
I often hear that big companies have it easy when it comes to target market research. They can invest in fancy studies, focus groups and pre-launch tests. They have all the details and variables laid out in a spreadsheet and can predict exactly what will happen.
As someone who has worked with both big and small companies, I have seen this in action, and let me tell you that all of that research doesn’t help nearly as much as you would think.
Successful product launches are most often the result of someone’s excellent instincts – both in big and small companies.
And how can you ensure that your instincts about a certain group/niche/target market are right on the money? By being a part of it.
So if your communication with your target market feels stale and isn’t showing much response, rather than changing your approach and trying to appeal over your competitors (which almost inevitably leads to cutting prices, making no profits, and eventual burnout), try changing your niche.
I am not saying you have to be the expert on whatever interest brings together your niche. You just have to share that interest, or passion, or concern, and understand the common questions and problems from experience. From this position, offering an effective solution that hasn’t been done to death becomes a no-brainer.
You want examples, you say? Here you go!
(All the data in these examples is fictional. Any resemblance to real research is purely coincidential.)
Let’s say you sell stationery and organizers, and let’s say you want to tailor your next product to women working from home.
If your niche is them:
You do some research and find that 90% of women working from home like the color blue, and images of landscapes or flowers. They have a preference for handwritten fonts in their communication. You also find that they would like to separate their home tasks from business tasks. To answer those needs, you fit in two weekly schedules on a spread, one for personal and one for business. You make the cover a brilliant blue, and throw in some images of flowers and landscapes. You use fancy handwritten fonts for the headings – even though that makes it next to impossible to actually read.
If your niche is us:
You don’t need research to tell you that it’s impossible to truly separate your day into two distinctly defined parts if you work from home. But it would be nice to keep track of which is which in your organizer. So you come up with a sticker system that not only allows you to track the different things on your schedule, but also makes it more fun to use. You keep it flexible because you know your day isn’t always a typical 9 to 5. You allow extra room for notes and sketches, and you add some lined pages at the beginning of each month or quarter to allow for planning ahead. As far as the look, you keep it clean and easy to use, with enough of a feminine touch to give it appeal, but not so much it will overwhelm.
What do you think, which one of these has the potential to be a true hit? I’d bet on the second one.
Or let’s say you make chocolates, and you would like to appeal to the people who are watching their weight.
If your niche is them:
You might try to reduce the amount of fat and/or calories, adding substitutes and experimenting with various healthy options. The result isn’t too satisfying. It tastes just barely chocolatey – not enough to satisfy the craving. In fact, it’s enough to make the craving stronger. As you wolf down a bar of real chocolate, you convince yourself that those who are really watching their weight would have a much stronger willpower and would be able to stop. You market the new product as a healthier alternative, never mentioning the fact that it does nothing to reduce chocolate cravings.
If your niche is us:
You attempt the exact same experiment as above, but conclude that there is no way you could offer this fake chocolate to anyone who is really craving some, that would be just cruel. So you decide to make some smaller sized individually wrapped portions of your best, richest dark chocolate instead, made with no additives and all the best ingredients, changing your slogan to “If you are going to indulge, make the taste worth it.” Or “Real chocolate for real cravings.” And you know these truly are worth it. Usually, one of them is enough to satisfy the craving. This is a product you can stand behind.
Though the second one doesn’t fit with the initial mission, it focuses on a different niche – people who will settle only for the best, even if it means a little bit of the best. And this is exactly the kind of product that could become a cult among them.
This works for anything. A truly unique approach comes from understanding.
Make sure you love your product first.
It’s so much easier to convince others once that requirement is fulfilled.