Just this past week, I was talking with a young man in Europe, a self-taught designer who was struggling to market himself online. He didn’t know what his niche was.
He’d recently asked his network on Linkedin for help.
I shot him a private message, asking him if he’d be open to test out an idea for a niching challenge. He was instantly interested.
We set up a video chat, and spent about 15 minutes talking about:
- The ideal client he’d love to work with
- His particular strengths and styles
- The past clients he’s had success with
Within 15 minutes, we applied the 1 simple rule of the challenge, and his eyes lit up. We were actually having so much fun, neither of us realized that we’d been doing it until we summarized the new niche.
He had this huge smile on his face. “I thought this was going to be a fluff exercise.” But it turned out to be hugely practical.
(At the very least, it’s a start. Perhaps after a couple of months, he might try a different niche. But it made sense. He targeted a specific location, a specific kind of person, and the specific kind of event usually open to his design style.)
Before, he offered general branding and design services to anyone, anywhere. Now he is focusing his efforts on event coordinators and business coaches in Vienna looking for modern, semi-brutalist design.
Can you see how that’s instantly stickier?
And sticky means memorable. Shareable.
Which is what we need as small businesses.
So let’s do this:
- Stop with ‘awareness’. Start with conversion.
- Be ludicrously granular.
- You have to start somewhere.
- A Niche Challenge you can start today
- Enjoy the confidence of a clear clientele
Stop with ‘Awareness’. Start with Conversion.
So, here’s the million dollar question: do you know who your target audience is? Your believer? Your tribe?
It’s a complete waste of time and money treating marketing like confetti, hoping someone will notice. That’s what big brands do.
They can afford to ‘spam awareness’ across a thousand channels.
We small businesses don’t have that luxury. We can’t spray and pray. We have to see a return on investment so that the lights stay on next month. We can’t speculate.
We have to laser in on the person most likely to want our services right now, or in the near future.
I remember my CFO leaning in at the marketing meeting, saying: “If they’re breathing, they will want my product.”
If you market that way, you won’t convert anyone. It’s completely unfocused.
Conversion is about making a personal connection, inspiring through trust, and inviting them to make a choice that will likely redefine their experience, or transform their lives.
Sounds religious? Well, it is. You’re doing more than selling stuff.
You’re building up a tribe around an idea. You’re helping them find a future we all want together.
We don’t have the budget or time for cold calling, and hard selling the M section in the Yellow Pages. It’s a waste of precious time.
Go after the small group who are ready and waiting for you to show up with a smile.
The first step is to try to be as granular as you can.
Create a list of what you know about your tribe.
Even the simplest definitions can boost your connection and conversion rates.
- Are they defined by location, or industry?
- If you’re a local business, then are they local to you?
- Do they use a specific service already?
- Are they in a particular income level?
- What’s their life status? Do they have a life experience that relates to where this is going?
- Do they have kids, or are they renting studio apartments?
This is called finding your niche. Marketers often turn these into imaginary people, and call these ‘Personas’, or profiles. They can be very helpful to keep your thinking focused.
As a small business, you need to pick one niche and go after them.
“But won’t I be leaving money on the table?”
I hear you.
It’s an intimidating feeling to go against the norm. But that norm is a 100 years of bad marketing. 100 years of faceless spamvertizing, putting lipstick on pigs, and ruining marketing for everyone. Distrust of marketing is at an all time low, and for good reason.
How do you get around that? Walk the walk with the small set of people who need what you have.
Here’s the best example I’ve read, by Stephanie Flaxman:
“For example, let’s say you sell a product for male college students. By speaking directly to that audience in your marketing and incorporating the elements that make you likable, you accomplish more than just attracting one type of person.
“When a grandmother is looking for the perfect gift for her grandson, your clear content marketing will make her feel confident that she’s purchasing wisely.
“You didn’t intend to attract Grandma, but your strong point of view helped her select a present and you gained a customer.
“Clearly expressing who you are and who you serve benefits your business and different types of prospects.” What Happens When Your Humanity Befriends Your Knowledge
Did you see that? You didn’t intend to attract grandma. But she clearly understood who the service was for, and was able to refer it to the person in her life that she knew would want it.
You have to start somewhere.
You might as well start by going after the tribe standing around with their hearts open and wallets out, looking for credibility, solutions, and someone they can believe in.
Once you’ve buttoned up a niche to your satisfaction, expand into a new one and do it all over again.
This will be the secret superpower to small businesses. And it comes from how we think as humans.
Niche marketing is like throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples of success and messaging have to start from somewhere. Let’s call it the Ripple Effect. #genius
When you see someone you trust enjoying success with a brand, don’t you automatically think “They helped them, maybe they’ll help me too!”
You can’t convert everyone. But you can convert one or two people.
And if you did a good enough job, they will convert their friends and connections with you.
So, stop trying to talk to everyone. The broader your message, the less you convert. Pick one type of person, and work to convert them.
Dominate a niche, then once you own it, do the same with another and then another.
But never do so all at once. Doing so dilutes your message and your marketing power.
The Niche challenge:
It’s actually super simple. 3x your niche.
The idea is to identify, isolate and engage with a ludicrously small niche, and become known as someone who delivered incredible satisfaction to that niche. Whatever you think is ‘small’, go three times smaller.
Unsure how to start niching? Or unsure that it’s not going to work? Try this 60 day challenge.
Instead of pivoting your whole business, create a campaign around a niche and focus on that for 60 days.
(Give yourself time to become credible in your audience’s mind. And honestly, I think that if you niche down enough, you won’t need to wait that long.)
For example: a brand does roofing for homes in Loudon county. So far you’re niching into upper east side, middle income families.
Let’s try to 3x that niche:
- only single parents
- no college education
- recent storm damage.
We want to find only 100 members of this tribe.
If you start to see an uptick in engagement after 30 days, consider shifting the business collaterals and messaging in that direction.
So concrete steps might be:
- Tweak your homepage to speak to this audience.
- Set up a landing page on your website that interprets your brand and services in light of this new niche. (Optionally run ads to that page)
- Tweak your social accounts and emailing list to focus on that tribe, and speak exclusively to them. (Perhaps set up new social pages, with a goal of connecting and bringing value to them.)
- Establish three things these people can do to solve their problems before they hire you. Type it up and give it away as a lead generator/freebie, or video.
- Are you on LinkedIn? Update your profile along these niche lines and ask your network for personal referrals.
- Reach out to past clients and orchestrate referrals to people they know in that niche.
You may have other ideas. There’s tons of other things possible.
As you can imagine, 3x-ing the niche instantly gives you a better idea of what to do and say. Especially in terms of content marketing and providing concrete value to specific people.
More importantly, it helps site visitors think of someone they know in those circumstances. Like grandma.
“But what about my existing website and messaging?”
To cover your bases, add a caveat to the campaign. An honest statement from you along these lines:
“We work hard to make everyone happy. But we hope to truly delight very special set of people. And our goal in this month is to find, delight, and serve those very special people. We believe that they’re the ones we can serve best. So if you know anyone, please let them know that we’re excited to bring them a brighter day.”
Enjoy the Confidence of a Clear Clientele
Are you starting to paint a clearer picture of your ideal client?
Is it clear enough to take out for coffee and talk to for an hour?
- Did you work with a particular client and wish you had more of them?
- What was it about them that made you two get on so well?
- Are there more out there?
- Do you think your client knows one more person like themselves they could refer to you?
No one gets married after a blind date.
But they do after dating for a while, realizing that we work well together. We build confidence and trust in a brand once we get to know, and – more importantly – like them.
Once you know who this tribe is, it is so much easier to spend time with them. And be inspired by them. And know how to talk to them, and find more of them.
Business is about humans trusting each other. And brands exist for specific people.
It’s always about person to person.
So, are you interested in taking the challenge? Got any questions? I’d love to help. Ask away in the comments!
Dominic is Enable’s design and brand specialist. He thoroughly enjoys helping businesses find meaning in their brands and define their distinction. Coffee, cooking and binge-researching are his hobbies. When not building websites, he is delving into projects to find the boundaries of his imagination. He hasn’t found them yet.