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Finding Your Niche (Being Friendly Isn’t Enough)

Part of being a marketer involves taking some calculated risks. The biggest risk in branding is often not in discovering what your brand is – it’s declaring what your brand isn’t.

It’s amazing how many small business owners say that they want to be the next Amazon or Apple or some other behemoth corporation but (insert butt photo) they don’t realize the key difference between them and Amazon – even when Amazon just started out. That difference is often enormous.

When you’re starting out, no matter how you look at it, you have competition. It’s either direct – with companies already doing what you’re setting out to do, or indirect, with companies doing something else entirely.

Either way you look at it, your company needs to be different. There has to be a noteworthy contrast in what you offer versus any alternative. It may be in the type of customer you serve, or features you can’t find elsewhere. It could be a dominant stake within a certain geography, a wildly different approach, or a completely unique product. It’s called a niche and all businesses nowadays need one.

What doesn’t make your business different is how good you say that your customer service is, how much you care about your employees, or how smart or capable your team is. Those are good to have, but every business claims those.

The difference needs to be in a hard-to-find benefit for the customer – and those are not it. Talking about how much you love your customers won’t provide you a point of difference – it’ll make you sound just like every other business that has customers.

Do this exercise: jot down two or three things that you think make you different, then visit the websites of your five closest competitors. If you can find the things you wrote down on their websites, you need to dig deeper and discover new competitive advantages.

I’ve put together a simple process for finding your niche. First, ask your current customers or staff what they consider to be different about your business. Look for things like a location, customer benefits, product, or service quality, you know…the things that I mentioned before. If the only answers you seem to get is that you’re great to work with, your business isn’t very different from your competition. You’re friendly and there’s nothing wrong with that – but that’s about you as a person and not about your business.

Second, research the competition for your niche. If it’s location, check out competition within a certain radius. If it has to do with quality, check online reviews for similar offerings. That’ll give you an idea of how unique your brand really is. If your competition is significantly limited, awesome. If not, repeat step one with some surveys or more staff discussions.

A word of warning here – you can go off the deep end with this. By providing something that hardly anyone would want or care about, you risk cutting off your customer base entirely. So be careful to make sure that the niche you claim is one that plenty of people are looking for.

Third, own that niche. Put it in your marketing, on your website, anywhere it makes sense. Own it – that’s your identity.

This is where a lot of marketers or entrepreneurs freeze up because by claiming your niche, you’re excluding a portion of your market. If you’re a mechanic that chooses to only work on diesel trucks, you’ll alienate owners of every other type of vehicle.

If you’re uncertain about excluding and saying “no” to a significant customer segment so that you can ultimately charge more for the customers you do serve, then you’ll need to go back to step two and make sure your audience size is large enough and your positioning is in an area that customers really care about.

Finally, realize that you can change your positioning if your niche audience doesn’t appreciate your point of difference, but don’t do it too early. Make sure to give it enough time to take hold before switching it up.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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