Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Makes You Niche?

Niche marketing has been all the rage for the last few years. However, it frequently seems as if "niche" is an ever-moving target that is shifting faster than you can run. Only a few years ago, Apple was "niche"... now Apple's market capitalization has surpassed Microsoft's.

Your business might not be an Apple or a Microsoft, but knowing what niche you inhabit can significantly increase your return on your Social Media investment.


Let's say you own a sports shoe and sneaker store. What makes your store niche?

1) Location -  You might not run the *only* shoe store in town, but you probably run one of a very few. It's pretty unlikely that you're competing with three or four shoe stores with exactly the same stock in one town, unless that "town" is a city. You inhabit a niche - your town and the area immediately around it.

Your Social Media: Using location-focused advertising seems obvious. Consider involving your business with local events, local organizations. A table at a town fair or Founder's Day is still "social media." Your medium is personal interaction. Focus on a local network on Facebook, search for local key opinion leaders on Twitter, encourage locals to check in on Foursquare. Have a website? A blog about relevant items locally can be fun and informative - for instance, perhaps you sell barefoot running gear and a local marathon or fundraising run/walk is happening next week. Being part of the event works to everyone's benefit and you come off as knowledgeable, relevant to the local scene, and kinda cool for helping raise awareness.

2) Topic - Maybe you run an online shoe store. Now you're competing against many more companies, manufacturers, and local brick-and-mortar stores. You can't compete with Zappos or the local store on convenience, but perhaps you can on *relevance.* People who run are passionate. Long-distance, ultra-marathoners and other runners want good, personalized information. Casual buyers might want customizable shoes. Your niche can be owning a topic or set of topics in a way that a large online entity cannot.

Your Social Media: Obviously, a blog works well for this kind of thing. But if you don't have time for that, a newsfeed customized for your key audience, or a customized toolbar can provide you with Top of Mind Status, and your audience with targeted, fresh information. A Facebook or Twitter widget can bring your audience in direct contact with ongoing conversations about the topics that are important to them and you'll have a chance to interact with them directly. A forum or discussion group can be turned into a community space where your business sits in the center of the communications web.

3) Skill - Perhaps your store has state-of-the-art equipment to image feet and provide suggestions for the best possible shoes or orthotics. Or maybe you repair or enhance shoes. Every extra skill you have to share becomes a niche that sets your business apart from your competition. There may be three stores that sell shoes, but only *yours* can provide shoes for feet with issues.

Your Social Media: There are many specialty forums and groups on the Internet where people discuss their needs, whatever they are. A few minutes on a search engine using the special skills you possess as keywords can turn up spaces where people are looking for that very thing. Tell the people in those spaces how you can help them and you'll find that you'll make a splash in your niche. Then it's just up to you to carry it through with your skills!

4) Uniqueness - Special offers are not all that unique. Comfy fitting chairs, or a coffee bar might be a one-time draw for a person, but what make your business truly unique is...you. Your experience, your knowledge, your personality. These are things that cannot be faked, replicated or standardized. If your staff is incredibly well-suited to handle problem feet, or your staff contains a marathoner, a hiker and an Iron Man competitor, this kind of unique understanding and ability is the best and most authentic promotion money can buy.

Your Social Media: An Ask the Expert feature on your web site can show off your and your staff's unique perspective in a way that no advertising can ever do. Use Twitter or any other Social Network to discuss experiences, adventures and expertise with other people and with your potential audience. Use each network's search feature to find relevant conversations and encourage your staff - and yourself - to be part of them.

Once you've found your niche, inhabit it as largely as you can. Become the nexus for specialist information and skills and people will look for you, as a major player in that niche.
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