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When it comes to marketing your small business, there’s no shortage of advice out there. Everyone’s trying to make noise in the marketplace.
Most online marketers tend to repeat what they hear from others. They all tend to put out the same advice, copying each other and repeating themselves until their “advice” becomes “gospel.”
That would be great if the advice were mostly good. But sadly that’s not the case. Most of what you’ll find is mediocre at best, and often just plain bad or misleading.
One of the most misleading marketing tips is to “find your niche.”
WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN TO “FIND YOUR NICHE”?
If you do a little online research on “find your niche”, you’ll notice a theme. Most will tell you to pick a target audience that is very specific. While that sounds nice at first, what typically happens is that small business owners take it too far and end up with a niche that can’t sustain a long-term business—like female vegan marathon champions who practice daily meditation.
Don’t get caught in the trap of choosing a target customer that’s so specific no one else would bother to go after them. While it may work for a select few, for many it holds back what could be a blooming business. Think about it… there’s probably a reason no one else would go after a target that’s THAT specific (hint: there’s so few of them).
On the other end of the spectrum, some business owners throw their hands up and just go after the biggest applicable audience they can think of… like moms… or Millennials (i.e., people in their 20s and 30s). That’s not great either, because it’s so non-specific that it lacks relevance.
AUDIENCE-SIZE TRADEOFF IS A FALSE CHOICE
The real problem here is that most business owners (and marketing “experts”) view this scenario as a choice between a winnable audience size and a meaningful opportunity size. They imagine a scale with two sides, balancing winnability with opportunity to try and get things just right.
It’s a false choice.
Decreasing the audience (and therefore opportunity) size is not the only way to create a winnable competitive situation. Here’s the real question to ask yourself:
How can I differentiate so that I can stand out and win in the marketplace?
Framed this way, you’ll discover there are other “levers to pull” that can make your business more competitive without necessarily sacrificing opportunity size.
4 POTENTIAL DIFFERENTIATING FACTORS
If you want to win against the competition, consider the following questions. By answering them, you can uncover new ways to stand out and be a unique solution without narrowing your audience to a pointless size.
- Whom do you uniquely serve?
- What’s the unique problem you solve?
- How do you uniquely solve the problem?
- What does your customer uniquely get as a result?
You’ll notice the first question resembles “find your niche”. But, framed in this way, it simply asks you to think about who isn’t properly served in the marketplace as opposed to just trying to pick a small audience size.
The remaining three questions each present their own opportunity for differentiation. Not only can they help you create a stronger, winning strategy, but they can also give you new inspiration for customer messaging that stands out.
A STARTUP THAT BROKE FREE FROM THE AUDIENCE-SIZE TRADEOFF
Uber didn’t choose a small audience size when starting up. They chose to go after a very big market with lots of competition. But they set out to solve problems no one else had solved (expensive cabs, confusing phone numbers, long waits, poor in-cab experience), in a unique way (with smart phones and apps as the catalyst), and gave their customers what they had been longing for (greater convenience at a lower cost).
WHICH MARKETING STRATEGY IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
We need to acknowledge that every small business is different. We can’t all follow the same marketing strategy effectively.
Yes, there will be some that benefit from choosing a more specific audience, and in some cases that means a smaller one. But there are others that would benefit from considering the Uber example.
It’s really up to you. At the very least, I encourage you to consider your options and think for yourself. That applies to both the strategy and tactics you choose to implement in your small business marketing.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.