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Guest Column: Marketing your niche product or service

Guest Column by Dean Swanson

Several requests for mentoring come from small business CEOs that want help in bringing to market the unique product that they have developed, or they have a service that they want to bring to a limited target market.  In this column I will provide several suggestions that I have discussed with this type of CEO request.

Dean Swanson

Successfully marketing a niche product or service requires a different set of strategies and tactics than a mass consumer product. The basic considerations are to carefully consider the needs of the customer, the current market, and how you’ll engage a small pool of potential buyers as you develop a marketing plan.

Marketing a niche product means that you are not selling to everyone. Having a narrow pool of potential customers comes with challenges and ultimately means more work on your part to find those people who fall within your niche. However, marketing a niche product also has advantages once you identify your customers.

Successfully marketing a niche product starts with an in-depth understanding of your potential customer.

The strategies and tactics put in place to market a mass consumer product — something almost anyone can use – are going to be much different than the ones you’d use to market your niche product. When you are targeting a small pool of buyers, you need to understand who is most likely to buy your product and how your product can tap directly into their needs.

Start with thorough market research. Resources like Reference USA and RMA financial profiles can provide valuable information. Your market research should focus on finding answers to several key questions:

• Is the product new to the world, or are others like it already available for sale?

• How can you differentiate your product from those that are similar?

• How large is the niche, is it growing, and at what pace?

• What’s the buying process?

One of the keys of niche marketing is to not only identify who your customer is, but to identify who your customer is not.

Targeting a niche market requires a greater understanding of your customer’s unique needs. This understanding will help you clarify who your customers are as well as which people are not your customers. Recognizing both is extremely important when it comes to deciding where to spend your time and marketing dollars.

Create clarity around your customer’s needs and the value your product can bring to their lives by asking yourself these additional questions.

•What are their needs?

• What are their expectations in terms of quality, price, speed of delivery, etc.?

• Where are your customers located (virtually and physically)?

• How do they shop for products and services like yours?

Engaging with your target customer is another challenge with niche products. You’ll need to learn where your potential customer pool gathers to learn and share information relevant to your market. Finding and attracting these customers could include tactics such as:

• Attending industry events and conferences

• Participating on social media platforms

• Interviewing as a guest in an industry trade journal or on a podcast

• Guest blogging on an industry-specific blog

It’s important to test market your product, your unique selling proposition and your customer value to confirm your assumptions and validate your marketing assessment. Although you can never be fully certain about your conclusions, learn what you can to minimize risk and then get started.

Identifying and engaging with your target customer never stops. Once you get going and understand your customer well enough to begin marketing your niche product, the work is not over. Customer engagement is a part of the entrepreneurial journey just as is marketing your niche product — these are ongoing efforts for the life of your business.

Marketing your niche product is not easy or straightforward, but it is easier with an experienced professional by your side, like a SCORE mentor. A SCORE mentor can help you identify your target customer and create a marketing strategy for how to best get your niche product into their hands.

Dean Swanson is a volunteer-certified SCORE mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the northwest region.