Conflicting advice is hardly uncommon in the business world. Anyone who achieves some measure of success can easily assume that their approach is the correct one, when in reality things are nowhere near that clear-cut. For instance, take the matter of brand targeting: what’s the best way to realise the full potential of your business?
Some will say that the right move is to specialize: to finely hone your brand to target a particular niche. The more in-depth your targeting, so the argument goes, the better your chance of convincing your target audience to buy from you. You certainly can’t please everyone, and it’s difficult to establish a unique identity while trying to serve multiple distinct groups.
Of course, others will contend the opposite: that you’ll get ahead by giving your brand common appeal and exposing it to as many people as possible. Niche targeting puts the fate of your business in the hands of a relatively-small group of customers. Keeping things general gives you the most bites of the cherry, and if you can offer a great service, you can thrive.
So what’s the truth? Well, as you might have guessed, it’s somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Every business is different, and requires different tactics to reach its goals. Should your business target a niche, or instead choose to relax its targeting? Here are some questions you should answer to figure it out:
What are the strengths of your business?
When you started your business, you presumably had some core idea of what would make your business special. What was that idea? What did you envision your business doing exceptionally well, and has that vision been reflected in real-world development? Look at it this way: while you can certainly change the direction of your business, there’s no sense in pivoting if you already have enough strengths to continue your brand growth. You just need to play to those strengths.
For instance, it might be the sheer quality and luxury of your custom products that sets you apart. If so, you’ll never want to go particularly broad, because you’ll never thrive in a broad market with high-ticket items. Alternatively, you might thrive through having a message that really resonates with people, in which case it would be a waste not to share it with the general public and potentially turn your brand into a household name.
What kind of support are you willing to offer?
In the world of online business, support is a key differentiator between comparable companies. This is particularly true for SaaS. Take ecommerce as an example, since it’s a core part of online business: the market is rife with viable store platforms, leaving store owners (particularly at the enterprise level) carefully eyeing factors beyond simple functionality. Shopify may focus on things like selling everywhere, but it’s the 24/7 support that earns the real plaudits.
The average online business doesn’t have the resources to roll out a support scheme that large, though. Instead, it must focus its efforts, and it can only do one of the following: provide hyper-personalized support over the phone (or even in person), or provide basic support to a large pool of actual or prospective customers (typically through email tickets or even a live chat system). Which one would you prefer to handle?
What are your competitors doing?
Offering something different is enormously valuable in online business. Why? Because you don’t get to benefit from having convenient locations. A brick-and-mortar retailer (the model will always be viable for various reasons) can skate by fairly capably through occupying a prime spot, and will never need to fear a lack of visibility — not so for an online business. Since you can’t inherently stand out, you need to be creative.
Due to this, it isn’t as simple as going with whatever you think is best for your company in isolation, because your company doesn’t exist in isolation. It must compete in a marketplace filled with alternatives. If most of your rivals are going for specific niches, there might be value in you broadening your horizons — and if they’re trying to spread out, you might want to get more specific in an effort to poach their niche customers.
What are your SEO options?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is something that no online business can afford to overlook. In light of the aforementioned lack of physical presence, ranking in online searches is typically the primary way of being found by potential customers, and it’s easier said than done — but if you can create content that can’t be found elsewhere (gauging it by its measurable ROI), you can get ahead.
Imagine the hyper-niche version of your brand. What pieces of content would it produce? What would the titles be? What questions would be answered? Now take things in the other direction, loosening the topical binds. What would a broader version of your brand talk about? Run some searches (and use some keyword tools) to see not only what people search for (and in what volumes) but also what content already ranks well. You’re looking for gaps — if you find that there are questions going unanswered, you’d benefit hugely from answering them.
Where is most of your revenue coming from?
Assuming your business has been around for a while, you’ll have collected a lot of analytics data about customer purchases: where your customers are located, how they arrive at your store, which products tend to be purchased together, etc. This information will give you a great foundation for deciding where to steer your business, because you can use it to gauge where the bulk of your revenue is coming from.
You may find, for instance, that 70% of all the money you make is coming from your top customers — people who place custom orders, found you through a niche community, and recommend you to their friends. If so, and that niche community is large enough, you might want to concentrate on that avenue. Conversely, there may be an even spread of revenue across wildly-differing demographics, suggesting that it would be a bad idea to get too niche with your targeting.
Once you’ve answered every one of these questions, you should have a fairly solid idea about what’s best for your brand. It largely comes down to where you want your business to go, and what makes the most financial sense. Whichever option ticks the most boxes is the one to run with — but never forget that you’ll always have the option of pivoting once more. If it doesn’t work out, make a change and try again. That’s the key.
Author: Rodney Laws, Editor at Ecommerce Platforms