First step to becoming the leader in your niche is to know your target market intimately. This is critical because a lot of times businesses don’t do well due to the disconnect between what they are offering with what the market wants. People only buy what they want. So you must present what you have as what they want. You can only do that when you have intimate knowledge of your target market and understand what they want. You need to have a clear profile of your typical consumer. Find out their desires, worries, motivations, buying habits, et cetera. The more you know about them and understand them, the better you can communicate with them in their language. There are many ways of doing research into your customer profile. Frankly, many of them are very complicated and too technical. But what you need is just a small part of all those data. Following are some questions that will give you enough critical information for you to start. Remember the point is to take action. Get the information and use it. Not get caught up with researching too much unnecessary data.
- Average age
- Predominant sex
- Predominant education level
- Typical hobby or hobbies
- Most likely occupation
- Marital status
- Major fears, worries, concerns
- Personal aspirations, goals, objectives, desires
- Financial or economic condition
- Hot buttons—special interests that get their attention
- Seasonal buying habits
- Product most recently purchased via your method of distribution
- Price paid for the most recent order
- Are they the decision-maker when it comes to buying what you’re offering?
Once you have an understanding of your target market, their deepest desires and their buying behaviours, then it’ll be easier to sell to them. For example, one of Sant’s clients was trying to promote a massage-in-school programme, teaching the students how to massage each other, that was supposed to be beneficial for the students. She was having a tough time getting any kind of response from the schools. When she engaged Sant, he immediately spotted the reason why she was not getting any response. Her target market was the schools, so the prospects she marketed to were the school principals. “Having a massage-in-school programme to teach students how to massage each other was probably nowhere near the high priority list for the principals. No wonder she didn’t have any response. So I helped her clarify her target market. We went through a series of questions. What were their major concerns? What were their desires? What were their goals? What were their hot buttons? What were their buying habits? Were they the decision makers on engaging services like my client’s? What we ended up with was very illuminating. Below, Sant gives step-by-step detail on how he proceeded to market this client’s strategic differentiation for her service based on the profile of her target market.
“As principals they were responsible for the overall performance of the students and the school. At the same time, the overall academic performance of the students will affect the school’s performance. We also found out that schools were in competition with each other to achieve better performance. The schools that did well would 1. Attract more students, 2. Get additional funding from the government, 3. Move up on the school ranking system, 4. Motivate their existing students, 5. Look good and have something to be proud of. Based on that, we knew that the principals would be motivated to help their students do better. On top of that, we also found out there was a surprisingly huge number of bullying cases in schools. Most of these bullying cases were not discovered until pretty late and this was affecting the overall behaviours of the students. The information gave us a clearer idea of what were the potential hot buttons for the principals. I repositioned my client’s pitch to hit those hot buttons. Instead of offering to teach students how to massage each other (nobody was interested in that!) she offered a way to help the school perform better by 1. Cutting down student aggression and bullying, 2. Increasing confidence, self-esteem and respect amongst their students which would positively affect their academic performance as well. So how was she going to achieve all that? By teaching students to massage each other! This massage-in-school programme has been proven to reduce bullying, aggression and increase confidence in students in the UK. In fact, thousands of schools in the UK are using it with great results. So my client had very credible proof of her claims. It worked like a charm! She started getting positive responses from principals who were very interested in her services after they received her sales letter.”
Another example is Sant’s positioning as a “Profit Strategist”. This is because he understands that his target market—business owners of small and medium enterprises in the region, most of the time don’t really understand the value of a marketing consultant. There is also this somewhat negative perception that consultants just talk theory and then they leave so the business owners don’t get real results. Sant listed down some of the major concerns, desires and hot buttons that a business owner might have. Obviously every business owner wants to get results, which is improved profit. So instead of trying to change their perception of the consultant, Sant sidestepped that and positioned himself as a strategist who helps businesses increase their profit. This is also in line with his belief that every single marketing activity should produce measurable results. By positioning himself as a profit strategist, Sant matched what he has to offer with what his target market wants.
How To Create Your Strategic Difference
When you are targeting a niche, it is important that you have a clear differentiation and focus your resources in that niche. Having a clear differentiation is critical because of the sheer amount of marketing noise today. One survey states that in just one day, a person would have been exposed to 5,000 advertisements. Now, with the connectivity of the Internet, wireless networks, text messaging and the explosion of social media, the assault to our minds is getting more overwhelming. And because of that, people are not only becoming more cynical but they have also become more desensitised towards advertisements. Who can blame them? If you’re in the market for a new laptop and you have about half a dozen choices, you will probably take the time to choose the one you really want. But if you’re presented with thousands of similar choices, your mind will probably be overwhelmed and shut down. Our minds just can’t process huge amounts of information effectively. That’s why most people have become uninterested due to the overwhelming amount of products and brands in the marketplace. That becomes the challenge for entrepreneurs: how do you differentiate from the crowd and stand out above the clutter in the marketplace. If you don’t stand out, you don’t stand a chance. And to stand out you must be different.
When former United States President Bill Clinton was interviewed by Jon Stewart on his talk show “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, President Clinton said this: “You need to highlight the differences, minimise the commonalities. Otherwise, how will people make a choice?” He was explaining that it was critical in an election campaign to differentiate yourself from the competition even though you might have similar policies with your competitors. It is better to be different than to try to better your competitors. Take the magic industry for example. Most magic shows are mainly done on a stage. Then David Copperfield came along and he revolutionised the way magic shows were done. While others were just focused on doing the usual tricks of the trade, he incorporated storytelling into his illusions. His shows are big productions and it was more like watching a Broadway show but with magic in it. He was also featured in several TV specials like “The Magic of David Copperfield”. In his shows, he always portrays himself as the romantic, leading man character. Some of his famous illusions include making the Statue of Liberty disappear, flying, levitating over the Grand Canyon and walking through the Great Wall of China. Because of his success, David Copperfield became the first magician to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been called the most commercially successful illusionist in history. In his heyday, people would be hard pressed to think of another illusionist whom they thought could be on the same level as David Copperfield.
On the other hand, a young up-and-coming illusionist went in the opposite direction. Instead of working with elaborate sets and huge stages, he went back to basics and performed his illusions on the street and without fancy equipment. His tricks were done close-up to the audience as there was no stage separating them. He also identified himself with the man on the street with his casual T-shirt and jeans attire while performing seemingly impromptu mind-blowing illusions. The young man, whom you would have guessed by now, is David Blaine. He has said that he wanted to bring magic back to the place it used to be 100 years ago. Referring to his bare bones performances on the street, the media commented that his deceptively low-key and ultra cool manner makes people more amazed than if he had razzle-dazzled them. In his TV shows, “David Blaine: Street Magic” and “Magic Man”, David follows through with his no-frills philosophy, where only a small crew with handheld cameras were on hand to capture him entertaining unsuspecting pedestrians. We believe a huge part David Blaine’s success is because of his diametrically different approach to illusions.
In light of the success of David Copperfield and David Blaine, who have taken the opposing positions of elaborateness and simplicity, you may be thinking, what else is left? Well, there is another well-know illusionist with his own TV show as well. He is based in the United Kingdom (UK) and his name is Derren Brown. His niche is mentalism, a part of magic that focuses on using mental acuity, suggestion and hypnosis to present the illusion of mind reading or mind control. For example, through the use of mentalism, he has gotten strangers to give him their wallets, mobile phones, watches and house keys. The camera will show the people walking away from the experience still unaware of what had happened for a while. Even when they realised what happened, they didn’t know how and why they willingly gave their stuff to him. At the end of the experience, Derren explains to the viewers how he did it, through slow motion replays and describing some of the elements of mentalism that he used. So instead of the sleight of hand, Derren does sleight of mind to capture a niche following for his act.
Even stand up comedians differentiate themselves and create their own niches. Some of them create their niche based on their characters such as the single mum, the Asian guy, the flamboyant Italian playboy, the Jew, the black guy and so on. One example of a successful stand up comedian who has created a very strong niche for himself is Russell Peters, and Canadian-born Anglo-Indian. His comedy content is drawn from his experiences of growing up as a “brown” boy in a white Canadian society. He satirises cultural and racial stereotypes but with a main focus on Asian races like the Chinese and Indians. Due to his accurate portrayal of their unique cultural idiosyncrasies, he has built a strong multiracial following; more so than other comedians.
As you can see, there are many different ways to differentiate yourself. But when you do differentiate yourself, remember this: don’t just do it for the sake of being different. You need to be strategic about how you differentiate yourself. You have to choose a differentiation that can give you some inherent benefit. To explain, let’s use a simple example of a classroom scenario. In a normal classroom setting, there will be different students who stand out because they present themselves differently. You have the joker, the pretty girl, the brain, the teacher’s pet, and so on. You remember them because of their differentiation. However, you wouldn’t want to be remembered as the loner, the rebel or the loser. In a business example, if you are in the courier services industry, you can differentiate yourself by being the fastest, the most reliable, the best customer service or the cheapest. But differentiating yourself as the newest or the smallest might not be useful (unless you can turn your weakness into strength, we will discuss this in a later chapter). Base your differentiation on what your niche market will want and appreciate. The following are some suggestions to help you brainstorm and create a differentiation for your products, services and business.
- Go bigger: offer a bigger version than what is commonly available. For example: The Hummer—bigger sports utility vehicle (SUV). Airbus A380—the largest passenger airliner. The home theatre projector—a much bigger version of a TV. Carrefour—bigger version of a supermarket.
- Go smaller: offer a smaller version than what is commonly available. For example: iPod shuffle—one of the smallest digital audio players. Visa mini—nearly half the size of a standard credit card. 7-Eleven—smaller version of a supermarket. Flash drive—smaller data storage device. Netbook—smaller laptop. 350ml bottle of mineral water. PlayStation Portable (PSP)—smaller PlayStation. Mini skirt.
- Do it faster: it can also mean being more efficient. For example: FedEx Express—overnight delivery. Domino’s Pizza—promised home delivery in 30 minutes. Broadband Internet access. Escalator. Fast food restaurants.
- Do it slower: taking more time can also mean being more efficient, more detailed, more careful, et cetera. For example: Cruise vacations. Slow cooker. Anti-aging products—slowing down the aging effects. Car detailing—very thorough cleaning, polishing and waxing of a car, to produce a show-quality level.
- Add to it: adding or combining different features. For example: Smart phone—mobile phone plus organiser plus many other functions. Adding special ingredients like essential oils or gold to beauty creams. 3-in-1 body wash/shampoo/conditioner. Latest version of iPod nano, which comes with a video camera.
- Subtract from it: taking away or simplifying features. For example: Twitter—social networking site minus the frills. Coupé—smaller, sportier version of sedans with only 2 doors. Coca Cola Zero—coke without the calories. Trans fat-free food. No-sugar drinks. Wireless earphones.
- Replace it: substituting certain feature with another. For example: Tofu burger. Whiteboard replaces chalkboard.
- Go economical: offering lower prices in exchange for no frills products and services. For example: Walmart—large discount department stores. Daiso—the largest franchise of 100-yen shops in Japan. Budget airlines.
- Go premium: offering higher quality of products and services for higher prices. For example: PestBusters. Singapore Airlines. Vertu luxury mobile phones.
- Complementary: offer something that complements the existing products or services. For example: iPhone/iPod accessories. Mouthwashes—complements brushing. Sports massages—after personal training sessions. Carwashes at petrol station.
Unconventional channel: use a different distribution channel or media to market. For example: Dell goes direct to consumers. Victoria Secrets grew big by using mail-order catalogues. Proactiv Solution (for acne) was promoted through infomercials.