To niche or not to niche.

Niching. Not a word, but an ideology

Remember when you were in high school and people started niching off into more distinct groups? We had ‘the musos’, ‘the cool girls’, ‘rugby guys’, ‘gamers’ and that small group of high-achievers that seemed to effortlessly meander between 2 or even 3 of the top groups and were super popular with all the teachers, parents and just about everyone else in the school. Regardless of who you were, you understood where you fit, or where you wanted to fit at the very least. But then you left school and you realised pretty quickly that being unique and not blending into a group was actually your most important asset. If you didn’t have that experience, try to think back to the movie Grease - groups of kids but then the unique ones who broke out of their moulds became gods to their social groups. On that note, never, ever, watch Grease 2 – devastating.

Find your difference

The point is, finding your difference is extremely important when it comes to brands, marketing and any form of communication. We need to remember that there are likely hundreds, thousands and even millions of other companies around the globe competing for space, attention and sales. Why pick you over anyone else? It’s not going to be because you’re the same – it will be because you’re different <or that you’re doing it so well that everyone bows down to you, but that’s another story, not everyone is a Nike or an Old Spice>.


Being different, not always quirky

Setting yourself apart doesn’t mean you need to don the clown shoes and perform, it can often mean that you find something that your competitors just aren’t doing and do that really well. For us we always promote a sense of calm around developing new products – it should be a goal, but not something that debilitates your company or steals focus from things you’re already doing. It’s something you should always have in the back of your mind. Just remember, Coca Cola used to be sold as a pharmaceutical – things change. 


What IS different?

Well, it could be your brand identity. Using circles when everyone is using squares. It could be ‘buy 1, get 1 free’ when everyone else is doing 10% off. It’s zigging when they are zagging – but not always.

Difference should be fundamental and challenging to your competitors. Great examples can be found in many different products over the last 100 years, but using a recent example we can look at Tesla. They make the same product as everyone else, but their sole focus (and their difference) was doing electric cars over anything else, doing it so well they can’t be beaten, and not compromising, even when it looked like they were going to tank. If you ask anyone in the world to name an electric car they’ll name Tesla straight away. It’s about being proud to stand up and say ‘we are the best at <x>’. Whatever you choose to rest your hat on, make sure it’s interesting, and try to have a CEO that is both out of control but sometimes likeable (Elon Musk much?).


Be bold

Brands that follow often disappear. Brands that lead almost never fall behind. In fact, brands that lead their markets are even afforded more leniency when it comes to customer acceptance of quality, mistakes, faults etc. You won’t always be able to just decide to be a leader but there are some things you can do along the way to help you get there. Bold brands try new things, even if there isn’t always a 100% chance of ROI, let’s settle for 85-90% for most companies being a good start. When you get to the level of Yahoo, for instance, you can afford to make some mistakes, so being different gets easier and easier. They just lost 98.9% on their purchase and ultimate sale of Tumblr – YIKES! The point is, whether it’s an idea, a product, a marketing technique or even just the way you do something internally, have a crack. What’s the worst that can happen? If you’re worried about your job, remember, people get jobs everyday and usually they award them to the people who aren’t like everyone else. Also, if you get hit by a truck, nobody is going to wait for biological reanimation to be invented before thinking about hiring your replacement. 


Think about the future

When Henry Ford began making cars, he saw a future where machines would make cars and humans wouldn’t even be needed. The rest of his competitors were still thinking about how to make cheaper bolts. Where did we end up? Pretty well where he thought. Was he 100% guaranteed to be successful? No, and he almost failed a number of times – he was so niche he almost shot himself in the foot. But his ideas are still the cornerstone of efficient production even today. Your natural response may be that you’re ‘not Henry Ford’ but it’s so important to learn from where others have been as a way of looking into the future. For your industry, it could be a production method, an advertising style, a product benefit or anything that you can talk about in your communications – but don’t be afraid to imagine, sometimes it’s easier to look back on decisions than to look forward to ones you haven’t made yet. Imagine if you broke new ground because you were open minded, your product became the most sought after, because you pushed the boundaries. It happens for some.

So, bottom line, don’t dust off the clown shoes and dance, find something unique about your brand or product and RIDE LIKE THE WIND!

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John Paul Wager