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Listening Completely: How to Reach Your Niche

My coworker, Alanna, shared an Ernest Hemingway quote with me recently that said, “When people talk, listen completely.” She mentioned the quote in a conversation we were having about letting audiences drive your content. It got me thinking about how marketers often ignore certain demographics in the interest of time, money, or convenience and how much that can damage your success in the online business world.

As a content strategist for companies from multiple industries, I spend most of my time thinking about people. Who they are, what they do, what they care about and why. Most importantly (at least for me to be successful at my job), I think about why they should care about jWeb’s clients. Then I try to create content that they’ll love and respond to.

This process—the basic foundation to all marketing—is totally reliant on listening completely and digesting the information you have in order to reach a useful conclusion.

Applying these techniques to people in the margins is just as important as applying them to people who dominate your target audience. I can’t think of a better example of this marketing truth than the Glide app.

Glide: A Case Study in Niche Advertising

In the spirit of listening completely, I’d like to tell you a story I heard from jWeb’s lead designer, Shannon. Shannon and his girlfriend, Sarah, are both deaf. One day, Sarah mentioned that all of her friends were “gliding” each other.

“I had no idea what she was talking about,” Shannon admitted. Sarah showed him the Glide app on her smartphone and how it allowed her to send video texts to her friends. The app had become indispensable for people in the deaf/hard of hearing community and quickly became one of the most popular apps available.

Surprisingly, Glide was not originally intended as a torch for the deaf community. It was first created as a basic video messaging app for all mainstream smartphone users because the creators missed their friends and families.

However, Glide creators took great strides in identifying, responding to, and joining their niche community of deaf and hard of hearing individuals to become one of the most successful startups on the web today. Their success shows that by finding and reaching your niche audience online, your company will experience more brand loyalty and awareness to put you ahead of your competition.
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Hacking Your Own Da Vinci Code

The makers of Glide didn’t immediately recognize that the deaf community was one of their biggest supporters. They noticed the trend over time by paying close attention to who their users were and how they interacted with their product.

The key to finding your niche audience is to look for patterns in all aspects of your marketing strategy. Often, companies rely on the most obvious patterns to drive the brunt of their marketing, so I urge you to take another look at how people are acting through:

  • Social media and blog comments
  • Analytics tools
Pay Attention to User Commentary

In general, pay close attention to any and all comments that come your way from users. Who likes your company? Who doesn’t? Even if the latter hurts your ego, it can show you what niches are just out of reach. Often, people who are willing to give constructive criticism are more perceptive to your responses and changes. Beware of internet trolls, however, as they can send your company spiraling onto the wrong marketing path.

Don’t Ignore the Stats

Demographic and behavior statistics in your analytics data are some of the most useful tools at your disposal. To the trained eye, it’s easy to spot trends in user behavior, but you should also look out for any unexpected fluctuations.

For instance, if you sell suspenders to primarily older adults and your analytics reports are showing that a surprising number of 18-24 year olds are visiting your site, it may be time to re-evaluate your product. Is there a new fashion trend among young adults that relies on suspenders? Has the price of belts suddenly skyrocketed? Have young adult pants stopped having belt loops?

Don’t go with your first instinct. You’ll never know the reason for the trend until you do some serious research. First, check to see if search engines have made any major changes to their algorithm that may account for the new activity. Second, inspect the new user behavior. What pages are they finding? What do those pages have in common? How long are they staying on the site? Next, expand your research to your competitors. Do they seem to be experiencing the same influx of users? Lastly, do some general research. What kind of suspenders-based content has been doing well on social media?

Make First Contact

So you’ve identified a potential niche community…now what?

First of all, take a deep breath before diving in or freaking out. Our assumptions about who we are as companies can be our worst enemies. If you’re not 100% sure that your company can reach the niche audience you’ve identified, make a genuine attempt to reach them before you back off.

By “genuine” I don’t mean superficially wooing a target audience. Reach out to the community by engaging them in conversation about their goals and yours. Often, the benefits you reap in learning about the population and your company outweigh the risks of pursuing them.

Take Your Cue from Darwin

Just because a niche community is interested in your product or service doesn’t mean they’re completely satisfied. Once you’ve received feedback from the community, you need to adapt your marketing, product, or service in a way that best suits them.

Both positive and negative feedback can be useful for deciding which changes to make. For instance, while Glide founder Sarah Snow admits that her first hint that they had found a niche was “enthusiastic reviews from the deaf and hard of hearing community in the app stores,” the deaf community also complained that they couldn’t understand their “hearing” videos on YouTube.

This feedback not only alerted Glide to their niche, but allowed them to change their messaging and product to better serve their target audience. They responded by learning ASL (American Sign Language) and including comprehensive subtitles to their videos. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Don’t Pigeonhole

While it’s important to adapt to your niche, beware of stereotyping. When we find ourselves outside a community, it’s easy to start assuming things based on surface-level research. For instance, the deaf community is very diverse:

  • People with pre-lingual deafness lost their hearing before the ages of 3 or 4. ASL was most likely their first language
  • People with post-lingual deafness may know both ASL and a spoken language
  • People who are hard-of-hearing may not sign but they read lips.

As a result, Glide has a wide spectrum of users and has to take many different approaches in how they market and produce their product. Offending a niche audience can severely damage your brand’s reputation, so be as open minded and respectful as possible as you make adjustments to your marketing strategy.

Be a Lobbyist (of Sorts)

Once your niche audience starts to appreciate your company, it’s time to rally behind your niche’s causes. Supporting the beliefs and passions of your niche will strengthen their ties to your brand. In addition, small communities realize that companies are a powerful tool to getting their voices heard and they’ll be more likely to promote your brand to those outside their niche. However, be sure to gauge the risk involved before taking action to ensure they don’t hurt your brand in the long run.

It’s Okay to Be Wrong

Sometimes, however, we realize the niche we’ve identified can’t be marketed to by our companies. In that case, I’ll keep this short and sweet:

I would argue you should never stop looking at ways to reach niche communities. Niches are a huge part of expanding audiences in general. Giving up that pursuit risks your company turning old and stale…which is worse than death in an online, global market.

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