Niche Marketing

Kelly “Rags” Ragland is owner and operator of Rags to Stitches Productions, a holistic advertising-specialty company providing a range of services from web design and development to customized apparel.

Although many apparel decorators enjoy the focus of a simplified target audience or, as we like to call it, a niche market, there are those of us who offer such a wide variety of products and services it can often be overwhelming to reach out for new customers. Yet in the theater of the Internet, any shop can target niche markets with a little drive, smarts, dedication and creativity.

In past issues, we’ve discussed an arsenal of methods for online promotion, from blogging to creating a presence among the many social networks. By utilizing those methods using multiple accounts and maintaining a great website as the hub for generating sales, one can easily reach out to specific demographics among several niche markets.

The undead

Though it’s definitely declined in popularity in favor of Facebook, MySpace still presents some big opportunities. Using the MySpace People Search, you can easily find users to send friend requests to who are interested in almost any niche market you choose. Of these, a big opportunity exists in the music scene on the site. Bands love MySpace and their fans love T-shirts. Consider taking a little time to create a MySpace page and add as many bands as your heart desires to that account’s friend list. By logging into that MySpace account once or twice a week to send out a bulletin with a call to action, one could easily start bringing in bands ordering shirts along with the benefit of other bands getting word of your work through that channel. Be it word of mouth, bands sharing resources or posting about you on their MySpace page, it all becomes a viral entity of your business focusing on a specific demographic.

Neo pigeon carriers

A similar strategy can be executed using Twitter. Shirly Cooksalot provides an almost automated example. Shirly is a fictitious tweeter I created to promote chef coats, aprons and culinary items. She keeps the attention of her followers—and gains new followers regularly—by tweeting several times each day with links to news blurbs, blogs and recipe sites from around the Internet via RSS feeds I’ve plugged into her account. Though she’s on auto-pilot thanks to the feeds, I still check in on her account from time to time to tweet something more personal or to re-tweet something interesting from a follower. This gives her followers the perceived notion that she is indeed a real person rather than a few RSS feeds pumping out all of the breaking culinary news for the day. It also gives her much better odds of getting a click through for a sale when she tweets about her new chef coat, steak knives and cutting board. Twitter stats show 75 million active accounts. How many of those might be in your handful of niche markets?

Niche faces

And of course we simply can’t ignore Facebook. A quick visit to www.checkfacebook.com—a site that tracks data reported from Facebook’s advertising tool to help marketers and researchers understand how Facebook is spreading across the globe—indicates that, at press time, Facebook has a global audience of 526,324,680 users, 140,475,700 of them in the United States. The popularity of the social networking giant is so high and businesses are finding so much success with it you’ll notice major brands including the Facebook logo and “Find Us On Facebook” in every one of their television commercials and print ads.

In addition to the MySpace strategy I mentioned, Facebook offers another method for targeting a niche in the form of groups. A Facebook group is a place for group communication and for people to share their common interests. Just like Facebook business pages, new posts by a group are included in the news feeds of its members and members can interact and share with one another from the group.

Virtual soap box

Forums present another form of creating an online channel for a target audience. An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. The discussions are referred to as “threads” (I’ve always loved that!) and can cover as many topics as the forum owner desires. There are many free Internet forums available and they are easy to set up and start. See sites such as www.proboards.com, www.forumotion.com and www.aceboard.net for assistance in setting these up.

Some of the pros to hitting a target demographic through an Internet forum are:

  • Users create the content by discussing their favorite topics.
  • Content is search-engine friendly and the threads generate keywords.
  • You are in charge of the advertising in the manner of banners, etc. Sell stuff!
  • Forum users generally log in regularly.

But of course there are also cons:

  • Forums need administration to thwart spammers and ensure no offensive or undesired content is being posted by users. This can be done in the form of volunteer moderators. However, the owner of the forum does need to spend time keeping an eye on things.
  • In order to build a busy forum, the forum itself needs to be promoted just like a website.

If owning and maintaining an Internet forum doesn’t suit your busy schedule, use existing forums to grab the attention of a targeted crowd. In a personal example, my dart shirts website was actually conceived after I participated in a popular darts forum for a long time. I’d log in to the forum a few times a week to discuss darts, dart tournaments, equipment, rules and events with the forum members, and often I’d drop in a funny graphic or create a quick logo for a dart league when it pertained to that subject. At the time, it was simply for the fun of it, perhaps killing time during lunch. But when it occurred to me that I had the attention of that particular darts community in the form of being their resident graphic designer, the idea of selling T-shirts and sublimated items to that crowd generated a niche website that has seen great success.

When participating in Internet forums, be sure to follow the rules of each one you join and maintain good forum etiquette. Try to become part of the crowd by joining in on a conversation on a semi-regular basis and refrain from having every post you make include an “order something from me” message. Wait for the door to open. When a subject is being discussed that you can take advantage of by mentioning your website, your message will be more potent as it is more relevant. Most forums also allow you to have a link to your website in a signature file much like email, so every post you make is another link to your website that a target market can click on and that search engines can see and add to your ranking.

Time management

While most of this may seem like adding hours of tasks to your daily list, bear in mind it is far from it! By using a free online service such as HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) you can easily manage all of your niche accounts through one dashboard. In addition, you can link all of your social networking sites together through RSS feeds so one update to a niche account can update all of the others with a simple click of the mouse. Adding those few niche accounts to your regular schedule of checking email adds very little time to the daily grind. Best of luck in your niche marketing efforts.