There's a special set of entrepreneurs who, either by insight, luck, or a combination of both, manage to successfully tap into a previously unclaimed space in their field. They're called niche marketers, and two of them have tips to help you follow their lead.
Nicholas D. Lowry, president of the 75-year-old Swann Auction Galleries, is a niche marketer par excellence. He's a third-generation leader of the business founded by his grandfather's nephew. The latter immediately identified a niche market: rare books.
As the decades passed, Swann stayed true to its rare book roots, but expanded the range of offerings to include vintage photographs. Today, the auction house focuses on all things paper, and features a myriad of rare, celebrated artifacts including autographs, posters, etchings, lithographs, books, maps and atlases.
So, what are Lowry's top tips for becoming a great niche marketer?
1.) Do one thing very, very well. Thanks to their sole concentration on rare books, photographs and all things paper, Swann has become synonymous with that niche in the auction house world.
2.) The three-step test. Lowry believes in testing a new concept three times before deciding if it fits or should be jettisoned. For example, Swann tried entering the vintage pen market. The first auction fared well. The second bombed and the third was mediocre. Nicholas abandoned the idea. Then, when the opportunity arose to build a market for African-American fine art in 2007, Swann jumped at the chance. After three sales, it was clear the area was worthy of a dedicated department. Ten years later, Swann is still a leader in the field.
3.) Don't overthink something. Nicholas believes the heart is more important than the head when expanding your niche. "The moment one of our employees pitched me on the African-American art idea, I knew it was right. Even if it fell flat, we'd still be seen as thought leaders. I didn't need market research to tell me to move forward," he says.
My agency seized a niche marketing opportunity a few years back when highly regulated financial services firms began experimenting with social media. Since we were experts in the former and represented governing bodies who determined what could and couldn't be communicated, we pounced on the opportunity.
Jackie Kolek, a senior partner at Peppercomm, has these three tips for duplicating our success:
1.) Take care. Don't scare. Kolek says her clients will often comment, “My CEO says we have to be on social media, but compliance won’t let us.” Were we to counsel a broker dealer or hedge fund to jump head first into Twitter, the program would never see the light of day. Instead, we take the time to develop an approach that creates a comfort level among key decision-makers. We outline clear, concrete steps they can take to build the necessary infrastructure, processes, and training that works within a risk-averse environment.
2.) One step ahead. The JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) loosened some of the restrictions on marketing financial products, but left many clients wondering, “What am I am allowed to do now?” By studying this new legislation, offering thought leadership on its impact and suggesting how businesses could take advantage of it, we became the de facto niche subject matter expert.
3.) Follow the money. As we expanded our financial services capabilities, we analyzed the competition, and uncovered a niche opportunity. The large, integrated agencies could do everything, but lacked deep subject matter expertise. Meanwhile, the small specialist shops understood the intricacies of the capital markets, but only practiced traditional media relations. We quickly created an offering that filled the white space: positioning ourselves as fully integrated communications firm with deep category expertise.
If identifying niche markets were easy, there'd be no niche markets. Here's hoping one or more of these tips will enable you to develop a previously uncharted space and run rings around your competitors.