How to survive (and thrive) in a marketing world that’s increasingly niche-ified
In the 1950s, there were three TV channels in the US. Everybody watched the same shows and saw the same ads. Things started to get crazy in the 90s, when cable magnate John Malone stirred the pot by predicting 500 channels. Thirty years later, thanks to streaming, TV is pretty much personalized. What used to be a single-pot dinner has become an era of short-order cooking.
TV is a pretty good metaphor for—and contributor to—the state of marketing. Unless you’re Apple or Kim Kardashian, it’s unlikely that you can count on a mass audience for your brand, let alone an individual product. You’re a niche marketer, whether you like it or not.
Even sectors that appear mass are composed of niches. Sure, the Super Bowl still draws audiences of 100M+. But over on Netflix, sports is a hyperniche affair—not just sports, not just reality TV, but sports reality TV (Drive to Survive (F1), Full Swing (golf), Quarterback (NFL)).
If you’re a large brand—or a small one looking for a big opportunity—hyper-nichification sounds scary, even if you’ve learned to live with it. How do you get a reasonable return on your investment in something new if the target market is tiny? What should mass-era legacy brands do about hyper-niches? Can niches be a meal or are they just snacks, tiding you over till dinner? Here are a few strategies to whet your appetite:
Defining your product for a single niche may limit your market size, so why not target two? Or even three?
The portmanteau approach to hyper-nichification is apparent in every brand collab ever. It’s also coming to Broadway. Combine David Byrne x Fatboy Slim x the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos and you get a Broadway show called Here Lies Love, which is presumably designed to attract alternative music fans from the 70s/80s (Byrne), electronica fans from the 90s (Slim), and students of Philippine history. A three-fer!
There are some—OK, it’s us—who believe that hyper-nichification is kind of awesome, especially for new products. Finding a targetable group that loves you lots gives you an opportunity to perfect your offering and build deep loyalty before you go big. Of course, first you have to identify which niche(s) are most interested in what you have to offer.
The magic of targeting on ad platforms means that you can define discrete audiences using lifestyle and other factors (aka niches) and target them simultaneously with ads for whatever product you’ve cooked up. Niches that respond enthusiastically to your outreach become your initial market—and a smart way to de-risk your launch.
This process—which we call heat-testing—can help existing brands find incremental niches for growth. It also yields a ton of data about your customers. Now serving: piping hot hyper-niches!
If you are the type of person who says, “The menu is just too large! Can’t you just order for me?” then ad platform automation is for you. If your product is somewhat ephemeral—like a movie—investing in learnings about which niches find it appealing may not be worth your time.
Google, Meta, and other platforms are happy to accept your ads and use their algorithms to find customers for you. Upload a range of positioning and messaging with a “gen pop” (general population) audience, and the ad platform will match ad to individual to optimize your ad spend. You won’t get a lot of data about who is engaging with which ad, but you might get customers!
The marketing infrastructure has adapted to hyper-nichification with powerful digital advertising tools, but real live humans still hold marketing power. Micro-influencers offer a pathway to reach a niche audience. The trick is finding the right one. Tools like Captiv8 and Outfit help make the match.
Influencers are a less scalable approach in the long run, but they are a terrific way to get the party started for a new product launch targeted at hyper-niches. N.B. a "portfolio approach" to engaging influencers mitigates performance risk if you are launching something new--think of it as a way of testing multiple hyper-niche hypotheses simultaneously.