I’d love to get feedback on this. It’s always nice to find out how people are doing who read my stuff. Since a lot of my “stuff” is about driving website traffic, I like to check in and see how you’re doing and what’s working best to drive traffic to your site.
I’d LOVE to hear from you on this:
Guest Post By Michel Fortin
I was recently interviewed by a print magazine about how I started my business. In it, I offered several tips and ideas on how to carve a niche in the marketplace that I personally applied.
And I realized that some of these tips were particularly powerful. So I wanted to reprint some of my answers here for you.
If you know my personal story, you know how niche marketing played an important role in my career.
Long story short, I feared rejection immensely, which led to a reclusive childhood. I wanted to overcome my fears and decided to dive into the world of sales in order to fight them. Years passed and many failures ensued until I finally became the top producing salesperson in Canada for a Fortune 500 company.
How did I accomplish that?
Since I hated prospecting, I found and developed more effective marketing strategies that caused high quality prospects to come to me instead of the other way around. I no longer had to prospect. I no longer had to be rejected. In short, I went from prospecting to positioning.
In other words, I decided to specialize in a specific niche — even though my employer did not require it of me. I positioned myself as an expert in a specific area (for a specific target market). Even though I could sell everything to everyone from this employer, I decided to specialize in only one product line for one particular category of prospect.
The result? I appeared as a specialist. I’ll come back to this later, but for now, realize that doing so helped me to attract pre-qualified prospects to my door. I didn’t have to do cold prospecting anymore. I didn’t have to “bother people” to listen to my pitch. I attracted higher quality prospects who wanted me to help them.
People today are bombarded with so much information, commercials and competition. Prospecting online is not only difficult but also impossible. Thus, you have to market in such a way that causes those kinds of people to come to your business or website, and not the other way around. Like a magnet, if you will.
Therefore, rather than prospect for clients you must position your business as unique in a particular category or industry, or for a specific audience or market. And by being unique, you will naturally become the leader. With all the competition out there, it is no longer possible to be better than the others. The goal, therefore, is to be different — and not better.
In other words, don’t duplicate. And don’t dominate. Instead, differentiate!
It’s better to be the leader in a small niche than an alsoran in a general one.
Being a general copywriter when I first started out would have pitted me against all the copywriters in the world, particularly all the top copywriters who were far better than me. But being a copywriter specializing in cosmetic surgery (which was my niche at the time), I naturally dominated that niche.
Today’s world has become overcommunicated and hypercompetitive — one huge blur of sameness, in my estimation. If you attempt to be too general or too wide in your approach, you will only dissipate among the blur. And people will not see any greater value in buying from you than in buying from the competition.
One of the greatest errors committed by most new businesses is that they fall into a trap: they try to be “all things to all people.” And they do so because they are mislead by the notion that, by offering more (or by serving more people), they will generate more sales. That’s understandable for the survival of any new business depends on the number of sales it makes.
However, the more general you are, the more indifferent you will appear to your audience. Indifferent to their specific needs, goals and problems.
Based on the law of averages, you will have to advertise quite heavily to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible, with the hope of attracting an adequate amount of prospects that will in turn translate into a certain number of sales.
Undeniably, this requires a gigantic advertising budget. (Or a heck of a lot of time.)
For most new and especially smaller businesses, this is quite a challenge if not impossible. Admittedly, it is true that, the greater your reach is, the greater the potential quantity of responses will be. But what about quality? Would it matter if your business or website generates a large quantity of uninterested visitors that will simply never buy from you?
Let’s look at the Internet. If your online business targets everyone, then your marketing message (and that includes your website) must therefore be painted with broad brushstrokes as to appeal to everyone. And the challenge with such an approach is the fact that you will lose a large percentage of visitors.
They may fall into your target market, but visitors that leave your website do so because they likely feel left out or become uninterested fast. Others simply choose competitors that might provide them with greater perceived value. In other words, the broader you are in your appeal, the less relevant you will be to any and every individual visiting your site.
If your site sells everything, chances are that your audience will not perceive any greater value in shopping from you than from anyone else. In fact, the only common denominator, with which they have to work, is price. If there are no other points of comparison, naturally the cheapest alternative wins.
Why? Because the greatest common denominator between generalists is pricing. And price will be the only metric used in comparing your value to others.
Sales will increase dramatically if your site is centered on a specific theme, product, industry, people or outcome. A niche, in other words. Put in a different way, the more focused you are, the less you will need to produce a sufficient quantity of website visitors to produce similar results.
A good niche is one that has three major qualities:
Let me explain why this is important.
The most commonly asked question I receive from aspiring entrepreneurs is this: “What product should I sell?” (Or “what sells well on the Internet?”) Quite frankly, everything sells (and can sell well) — from pet food to travel packages — in some way, especially online.
In fact, everything is being or can be sold, somehow, in some form or another. But that’s not the problem. It’s not what you sell. It’s to whom. In other words, don’t look first for a product to sell. Look for an easily targetable market with an easily identifiable need or problem, and fill their need or provide them with the solution.
In order to achieve this, you need to be observant and listen to the needs of the marketplace. If people seem to be asking for a specific solution to a problem, obviously it is because a niche exists that has yet to be filled. Look at some of the questions people ask or the complaints they have. These are very good indicators that a need exists. (Otherwise, the marketplace would be silent.)
Once you have found a niche, everything will flow from that point. In fact, if you follow this tactic you will constantly find products to sell.
Simply put, don’t carve a niche. Rather, find one and fill it. Your marketing will naturally help to solidify your position and thus dominate that niche, rather than trying to “get more clients.”
Sure, there are ultra-targeted niches that are very small and very limited. In such cases, the only way to remain profitable is to dominate several of them. This is often called “market segmentation,” where you segment your marketing to cater to a wide variety of small niches.
But for the scope of this article, let’s just say that, if you’re a generalist already, narrowing your focus to a smaller segment will attract not only more prospects but far more qualified prospects, too.
How do you dominate a niche? It doesn’t need a lot of work, really. When you position yourself as the expert in a niche, you naturally dominate it through the power of leadership. And leadership is not the result of an action or an event. It’s based on the power of perception.
If you offer a customary service or if your competition offers the same thing you do, catering to a niche helps to project an aura of uniqueness and superiority instantaneously by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t appear as customary. Rather than copying your competition, you isolate yourself from them.
For instance, if you required brain surgery, would you choose a dentist? Would you choose a general, medical practitioner, even a general surgeon? Not really. You would probably choose a neurosurgeon. It’s the same thing for direct marketing. If you owned an imported car that needed new brakes, would you choose any general mechanic? Or would you choose one that not only specializes in brakes but also specializes in imported cars?
Expertise is in the eyes of the niche. You become the leader not because you are superior but because you are different. Specialization is in itself a marketing process that, as a byproduct, generates the perception of expertise. It’s amazingly effective in creating “top-of-mind” awareness among a specific target market.
For instance, an accountant specializing in car dealerships will acquire more clients than a general accountant will. An advertising salesperson specializing in home furnishing stores will sell more advertisements than a typical advertising agent will. A photographer specializing in weddings will get more bookings than a regular photographer will. Ad infinitum.
As more businesses get started, and the more inundated with marketing messages our society becomes, the less time, energy and money people will have to spend in choosing the companies with which they will do business. Thus, specialization helps to solve that problem by projecting an aura of expertise.
Take the mechanic, mentioned earlier. Rarely would you call a general mechanic an “expert mechanic,” unless she has invested a considerable amount of resources in branding herself that way, or in educating herself deeply in the world of mechanics backed by many years of experience. On the other hand, it would be easy to dub a mechanic — even a new one — that specializes in imported car brakes as an “expert mechanic.”
Similarly, by finding and dominating a niche, you can become an expert by default — not by design. You become an expert as a byproduct. In other words, a generalist is just a marketer. But a specialist is an expert. That’s the difference.
About Michel Fortin…
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog and subscribe to his RSS feed.
Guest Post by Michel Fortin
In today’s Internet, conversations are cropping up all over the place. People are talking. They are talking about products. They are talking about businesses. And they are certainly talking about their experiences.
When you look at how blogs, forums and social networking sites have exploded in the last few years, you can see how powerful word-of-mouth is. But the question is, is it all really important? Can it really help your business?
And I’m not talking about traffic. And you don’t need to be controversial, either. I’m talking creating systems to leverage, manage and profit from the “buzz.”
Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful lead and business generation processes there is. Online, some people call it “word-of-mouse.” But we know it more as viral marketing.
Viral marketing is the process of implementing means or tools through which the knowledge of your existence self-propagates. Like a virus, your visibility spreads throughout a network of people who refer you to each other.
Notwithstanding the power of backlinking, traffic and SEO, viral marketing is key for a number of reasons. Success in the offline world is “location, location, location.” The Internet is no different. Your success depends highly on the number of locations you appear online — places on which your site, link, company or product name exist.
In essence, to expand your reach, you need to be in as many places as possible, talked about by as many people as possible and be in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
With viral marketing, there are three ways of doing it:
The first is self-explanatory. Your content may be controversial or buzzworthy. It may create raging fans — or enraged enemies.
The second is simple: you create an application — whether it’s a video, audio, file, software, document, etc — that people can pass around, and thus proliferates the knowledge of your existence on the web through other people’s efforts.
I might write about these two at a later time. But for now, the one on which I want to focus is the third: creating a system.
Before I give you some examples, let me explain why word-of-mouth works wonders. Those who get to know you or to know about you through a third party grant you a higher level of confidence, credibility and loyalty. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini in his amazing book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” this is social proof in action.
Remember a dictum a mentor of mine once told me, which is: “Implication is far more powerful than specification.” In other words, if you tell people you’re the best, that you’re the leader in your field, or that your product is the best solution to their needs, your self-serving promotional bias makes it all suspect.
However, if someone other than you — whether it’s on a blog, in an email, on a social networking site or in person — says to another that you are indeed the best or that you do have the best solution to their problems, how much more believable will that person’s statement be? How much more credible and trustworthy?
The answer is “definitely more.”
Accordingly, word-of-mouth is not only important because it creates an awareness of your business (let alone traffic), but also it is important to the degree to which third party marketing indirectly communicates greater credibility, superiority and value of the products or services you offer.
In his book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” Al Ries stresses the importance of leadership and how that leadership is communicated.
According to Ries, people never buy the best — they only think they do. They usually buy the leader (or what they perceive as being the best). And that perception is often molded by what they are told and by what others do, not by what is fact or by what is being advertised.
Coke, for example, outsells Pepsi. But according to Ries, taste tests reveal that Pepsi is the better tasting brand. So, why does Coke still beat Pepsi in sales? It is not because it is the leader in the marketplace or promoted itself as such but because it is known as the leader. And the reason it is known as the leader is because Coke was the first cola “in the mind” of the marketplace.
It is the one most talked about, even to this day. When a person is introduced to cola for the first time, they are often told to try Coke. Restaurant patrons still ask for “coke,” even when Pepsi is the only cola served. Why is that? While other colas are bombarding them with marketing messages, people have heard of Coke first, and most likely from other people.
Consequently, if people hear about you from other people, and not some advertisement or pitch, this social proof will create not only a certain buzzworthiness about you but also an almost instant trustworthiness.
How do you do that? The most significant method is to be the first. If your business or website is unique, focuses on a niche or is the first in some category, the knowledge of your existence will spread quite naturally, almost like wildfire. It becomes viral in and of itself, in other words.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be new. I’m only saying you need to be unique. Or better yet, you need to be the first. Whether it’s catering an existing product to a new niche, or adding a new twist to an existing product, you become the first.
I said it before: don’t be the best, be the first. But more important, as Ries pointed out, “Don’t be the first in the marketplace, be the first the MIND of the marketplace.”
That said, there are ways to use systems that will leverage the spreading of that message, on the other hand, which helps to multiply your marketing punch. Such systems both simulate and stimulate word-of-mouth advertising.
Networking systems, for example, include strategic marketing alliances, joint ventures, and affiliate programs. And unlike the more traditional traffic generators such as ads and search engines, these specific tools are much more effective since they are used by third parties and not by the original advertiser.
In these cases, people don’t find you. They are told where you are because someone told them about you — especially if that “someone” is a person whose opinion they value.
If you received a call, letter or email from someone you know (and especially trust) referring you to a particular company, how much more credible will that referral be when compared to a blatant advertisement coming from the company itself?
You got it. A lot more.
When we think of viruses, we remember when “Melissa” and “I Love You” hit the scene in the late 90s and early 2000s. No, they weren’t some kind of adult-oriented websites, but computer viruses (or is that virii?).
But here’s why they were so effective: the devious (or perhaps even brilliant) way these viruses worked was that, after opening the email attachment, it sent more virus-infected emails to the first fifty people in your address book without your knowledge.
While we are bombarded with spam and phishing attempts, and anti-virus warnings telling us to never open an attachment from an unknown person, how can we resist doing so when the email apparently comes from someone we actually do know (since the virus uses address books to multiply itself and even personalizes the email with that person’s name)?
We can certainly learn the way viruses work — and, in the same way, apply that process to online marketing.
How? Remember that good ol’ fashion process called “networking”? According to Jill Griffin’s wonderful book “Customer Loyalty: How to Earn it, How to Keep it,” we are more open, trusting and loyal when doing business with or being marketed by people we know — and we certainly refer them to others more often as well.
Networking grants you the ability to reach corners untapped — areas that would have been unreachable otherwise. I personally don’t advocate traditional networking (the simple, “I’m open for business” kind) because, in my experience, it hasn’t brought me anything substantial in return. While it can be a fantastic marketing tool, the way in which networking is conducted is often the reason why it does not produce any favorable results.
When you’re only networking, more often than not people will want something in return — otherwise, they will lose interest or stop sending referrals if you don’t take the time to recognize their efforts. A way to consistently reward others is to turn your networking efforts into systems — in other words, to develop strategic marketing alliances.
There are many ways to accomplish this. But the most effective forms of networking are those that are systematized.
A traditional network is one in which qualified leads that you can both share, or information about each other that is promoted to each other’s market, clientele or subscribers. This way, you can effectively cross-promote or share markets with each other. As long as your alliance logically shares a same target market but without directly competing with you, it could be potentially rewarding.
On the Internet, this technique is one in which a systematized method of cross-promotion between you and your alliance through a unique, joint marketing effort is created. It is also often referred to as a “joint venture.”
For example, this includes the coupling of complementary products or services in a single offer that’s exclusively marketed to each other’s market. While different, these offers are combined and marketed under the banner of a single promotion.
Whose product or offer can you bundle with yours to create an entirely new and distinct package?
In its simplest form, if your alliance sells a product to a market that matches yours, they can add to their offer additional products, services or bonuses from you, which may include an exclusive special offer for one of your products as an upsell.
But the best method I’ve found is when you create an entirely distinct product with those from two or more strategic alliances, amalgamating existing products from all companies into a single offer that’s sold simultaneously from your partners’ sites.
For example, you sell cookware online. You can easily team up with a publisher specializing in cookbooks and throw a book in the mix. While you raise the price and split the profits with the publisher, you instantly raise the perceived value of the cookware through a co-branded approach or a combined package of non-competing products or services.
Best of all, each of you market the “new” product separately while sharing in each other’s traffic, market, lead-base and referral-sources (i.e., your own respective networks, including affiliates, “fans” and even suppliers) — thus doubling the reach with the same marketing effort.
If they have their own distinct affiliate program, network of affiliates and fan base, including their own blogs for instance, they can leverage the knowledge of your existence quite rapidly. And vice versa.
Ultimately, by leveraging the efforts of others you not only propagate the knowledge of your existence on the web, but also you create trust and credibility. And if you cater to a new market, or offer a new product by taking an existing product and giving it a new twist, you also give yourself an extra dose of buzzworthiness, too.
About Michel Fortin
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog at and subscribe to his RSS feed.
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I like lists. It’s no big secret. Something about lists that approach 100 has a certain ring. 100 things means its usually a pretty deep, hefty resource. Sometimes there are only a couple of things on a 100+ list of resources that are helpful, but its because it is a big list that you are almost guaranteed to find stuff you didn’t know about before.
Blogging Tip: “Lists are tired linkbait.” Have you heard that before? Here’s how to get as much out of list-bait as in the old days. Go to 100! I know its very Spinal Tap of me to say so, but the list that goes to 100 is rare, and reeks of someone putting some serious work into a post. Lots of research goes into a quality list of 100 anything!
If all the blogs in your niche go to 10, then yours needs to go to 11!
This video should help you understand the concept of going to 11…
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