How to go after a niche market without destroying it


We all know by now that you can’t test something without inadvertently influencing the outcome. The same can be said for marketing to a niche. A niche is an ecosystem unto itself and unless you’re already a part of that niche, your participation will impact the health and wellbeing of the ecosystem. Here are some things I’ve seen that will help you navigate those sacred waters. I’ll use people who love fixed gear bicycles as my example.

Be honest – Let people know what you’re up to. If you’re goal is to sell stuff; tell them that (after reading my next point below).

Be eloquent – Instead of saying I’m here to sell stuff, you could say that I have a great product/service  like Paul Royal Flush cranksets that I think you’d love AND I’d appreciate your feedback. If this person is really a member of the niche, they will be passionate about the topic and want to contribute/collaborate. (Note: you must really listen.)

Be yourself – This goes hand-in-hand with being honest but it’s safe to say that you should not be afraid to talk about what you’re passionate about even if it lies outside of the target lines of the niche. Don’t be a vanilla version of yourself. If you like Monster Truck Rallies – seek immediate attention – but don’t be afraid to let them know.

Bring a sherpa – I’ve posted about this before (here) but you need to make sure that if you’re not the target market (and I’m not really sure this is wise), you need a liaison

Don’t ever refer to “them” as a niche – These people are passionate about fixed gear bikes. You call them a niche to your boss but with them and your sherpa, you will refer to them simply by name or Parrot Heads if they’re also Jimmy Buffets fans. Just as you don’t want to be a number (prisoner 43975772183434903-bXdr55-321.0), they don’t want to be nichey.

Address skepticism right away – When I walked into the bike store and started asking about fixed gear bikes – even though I’d purchased my rode bike there – the droog at the counter literally asked, “why?”. Loosely translated, “You’re not cool enough to ride a fixed gear (even though I grew up on one) and if you buy one that will “kill the scene”. I gently told him that I was looking for something to ride with my kids that I could fix up over time and that it didn’t need to be a fashion statement. This somehow made him relax. To use my ancient slang, I believe it was because I convinced him I wasn’t a poser.

As marketing geeks and product people it’s our responsibility to help the niche thrive.

As I typed this up I was reminded of an Anthony Bourdain episode in Laos, where he confides that travel television has a similar problem. (2 minutes to 3:30 of the video)

That’s the problem in making travel television. When we succeed, we inspire others to travel to the places we care about and in a sense we help kill what we love.

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I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently interested in artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, cycling, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive + surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and tattooing.