Business Musings: A Few Benefits of Niche Marketing (Niche Marketing Part 3)

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I dithered a lot before starting this post. I wanted to show you how to pare that long list of mine that I featured in the previous blog down into something manageable, to show how niche marketing is done in an effective manner.

But I couldn’t get myself started. Granted, I had a very sick cat to deal with and some health issues of my own, but I couldn’t quite do it. I had ideas, but each time, I got stalled by something very important that came up in a discussion with some other writers shortly after writing last week’s post.

Writers don’t understand the value of niche marketing. So I can talk about how to do it for post after post after post, only to have most of you reject what I’m telling you because I haven’t done the basic thing—the most important thing, really.

I haven’t told you why.

Here it is in a nutshell.

Niche marketing is the opposite of marketing to the masses. Marketing to the masses has become well nigh impossible in the past ten years. Not even the movies do it effectively any longer because the advertising venues are mostly gone. I dealt with that in the very first post on this topic a few weeks ago.

First, let me reiterate that this series on niche marketing is geared toward the professional writer, the one who is running a business, the writer who writes and publishes a lot. It’s also for other creatives who are business-minded.

If you want to be an artist and to have someone take care of you, well, then, good luck. I almost wrote that you should go into traditional publishing, but that won’t help you at all. They haven’t taken care of writers (not even the big names) in more than 40 years.

I’m approaching this series from one business person to another. Note the word “business.” Writing craft does not belong here. I’m not going to tell you to write vampire romance because it’s hot. (It no longer is, but you know what I mean.) I’m going to help you find your own footing for your own marketing, which will look very different from mine.

So, for those of you who want a career in the arts, without resorting to teaching or working a corporate day job for someone else for the rest of your life, read on.

When I talked about niche marketing in the past two weeks, it sounded like I was saying that we have to do niche marketing because we have no other choice. And that’s not really true. We have a lot of choice.

  • We can skip marketing altogether, which doesn’t help with discoverability (although it might help with sanity at times).
  • We can scattershot our approach, as so many of you are doing just with your newsletters alone. You send out one big email about everything and hope that all of your readers read to the end. (Most won’t.) You can put the news on your website in a much more organized way than I currently have. (Which is going to be fixed later in the summer.) You can try to promote everything all at once, which is ineffective and time consuming.
  • We can buy big ads somewhere (The New York Times Book Review? Amazon “targeted” ads?), spending a lot of money for very little return.
  • We can do what we perceive everyone else is doing. Note the word “perceive.” You never really know what everyone else is doing. Or what’s effective for them. Sorry to tell you this, but those people on the Facebook groups and other “private” sites? Those folks often lie about their numbers to impress everyone else. You can’t know what they’re doing right unless you actually see the numbers, which no one is going to let you do.

And on, and on, and on.

Or we can focus on niche marketing.

Niche marketing has a lot of benefits. I’m going to start with my three favorites:

  1. Niche marketing saves time
  2. Niche marketing saves money
  3. Niche marketing is creative and fun

Every business lacks two major resources—time and money. To solve the time issue, many businesses hire a lot of people. The more people hired, the more time gets wasted, but somehow the addition of a few hours here and there does boost productivity. Somewhat.

However, it costs money to bring in more people to create more time to do things. Many businesses get outside investors to pour money through the door to invest in employees and systems, making it possible to get more done.

Never enough, though, and not always in a good way.

But most of us are not big corporate players who can bring investors into the fold, unless they’re family or friends willing to risk a few thousand dollars. Even that won’t bring in enough money to solve this problem.

Many of us run a one-person shop. It’s just us, and the idea of adding more to our plates makes us not only wary but terrified. We barely have enough time to do what we love to do, let alone add in things like marketing.

And most of us have financial obligations that eat into whatever money we make at our writing businesses. Many of us have very little money left at the end of the month to invest in anything, let alone marketing.

We’re going to get to time savings in later posts, because explaining that is complicated. In fact, we’re going to go in-depth on all of these benefits in later posts because I can’t really cover everything well in this post.

But let’s focus on saving money, shall we?

Niche marketing can be done by one person without giving up a lot of time on the important things, like writing. You don’t have to outsource the marketing at all, which saves money.

Niche marketing means that you won’t be doing what everyone else does. Those hefty advertising price tags usually come from mass market advertising ventures or at least, large market advertising ventures. The scattershot approach is costly and quite ineffective.

Niche marketing, on the other hand, has a high return on investment. You put money into a targeted market, and you’ll reap a better reward than you would if you go too big too soon. (Or simply go too big.) A few dollars here and there, strategically placed, will bring in a few more dollars. Early on, you might not break even.

Spoiler alert—you’re not trying to break even.

What you’re doing is building a customer base.

That customer base is loyal and interested. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I sent out a single targeted newsletter for a new novella in my Diving series. I have no idea how many sales that newsletter equaled, because the novella was in Asimovs and the sales went to their magazine.

But I got a great group of letters from readers, trying to figure out how the novella will impact the rest of the universe. They’re enjoying the work and thinking about it, trying to figure it all out.

My Diving readers are loyal and engaged. They also buy every story in the Diving universe as soon as they can. Note that I’m not saying they buy the story when it comes out. That’s about the vagaries of their own financials and reading habits. But they make sure they get each story as soon as they possibly can.

Building a customer base takes time. You build one person at a time. If you have a customer base of three people, then that’s three people more than someone who never tried to build a base. Celebrate each person who comes on board, because they’re interested enough to return to your work and to want to know more about it.

Respect that.

Your respect for their loyalty to your product is essential to niche marketing.

Every writer can build a customer base. Every. Single. Writer. It takes patience, and a willingness to drill down into the various projects that you create.

Creating and working with that customer base is something every creative business can do. For a good five years or more now, I’ve followed a business called Outrun the Dark. They have great inspirational shirts and running gear, but more than that, they’re a community designed to help people like me, who struggle with depression.

Their founder, Siggy, writes this in the “about” section:

Watching a loved one deal with depression can leave you feeling helpless, even though you’d like nothing more than to help them.

In the social media age where every Instagram feed is a highlight reel, we want to raise awareness of everyone fighting a battle underneath. Reaching out for help is hardest when you need it the most, and that’s why being open and raising awareness is a core part of who we are. By wearing an OUTRUN THE DARK piece you support those who fight.

Outrun the Dark donates 10% of its profit to funding research on clinical depression and anxiety. They also do occasional fundraisers by sending out an email or, as they did in May, making a specific collection of running gear as a fundraiser.

They also have free events, like their “outrun” the month events. Usually, that’s a virtual 5K, run at some point toward the end of the month. June’s was on June 30.

They also have built a community of people who are learning to use running/walking/exercise to help with the daily battles of anxiety and depression. That community is through the newsletter, on Instagram and Facebook, and through some blog work. Their community is, as of today, nearly 28,000 people strong.

I can remember when they were barely at 2,000.

They don’t use random models for their imagery. They ask members to send in photos wearing the gear. They do some photo shoots now, but in the beginning, it really was shoestring.

I’m sure they could have gone head to head with, say, Nike, trying to market athletic gear to all the usual exercise markets. But what did they have that Nike didn’t?

What they had was an attitude, a mission, and a desire to help people. That’s how they built their community, and continue to build. (And the clothes are comfy…)

They found their niche. I’d rather buy from them than from one of the big athletic retailers, even if their pricing is a bit higher on some items.

In the beginning, Outrun The Dark didn’t have a lot of resources. I have no idea if they have a lot now. But they used newsletter marketing effectively. I found out about them through a targeted Facebook ad about tech t-shirts. I have yet to see them mentioned in Runner’s World or some of the bigger advertising places. That doesn’t mean they’re not part of that world. I just haven’t seen it.

Niche marketing focuses on the effective use of resources, whatever that means for each business.

Most writers do not have a lot of money to spend on marketing or maybe on anything. What writers do have, though, is creativity. And niche marketing—figuring out how to bring your product to the community you’re building is a creative problem, not an advertising one.

The more creative you are, the more your targeted audience will notice you.

It’s fun to come up with ideas that center around your work. Rather than trying to shove your products into someone else’s broadly defined categories, you can establish your own.

I’m sure Outrun the Dark could have tried to fit their shirts into the existing shirt markets. They could be in department stores Wal-Mart or Target, their shirt one among many. For all I know, they have. But I haven’t seen them, which means nothing.

What’s more important is this: If I had seen them in a department store, I would have bought the shirt because I like it and the sentiment, but I wouldn’t have sought out the website or the running community. I wouldn’t have been one name among those 28,000 loyal customers—which I absolutely am.

Their marketing is creative and on brand. Often they don’t ask for sales or money. Sometimes they simply note a change in the way that depression is treated. Or they note that there’s more sunlight right now in the Northern hemisphere, so those with seasonal affective disorder get more light. Things like that. Useful and helpful and much more than shirts.

But Outrun the Dark is, as far as marketing goes, one thing. They make athletic clothing with inspirational and personal statements. They’re like Pinkbox Doughnuts in that way. They’re just one thing.

So we’re back to the one thing among many problem. I promise you, we will wrestle that elephant to the ground.

We still have some marketing principles to look at, though, and some expansion to do on the concepts above.

But we are zeroing in. We writers are more like Outrun the Dark than we are like Pinkbox Doughnuts. As writers, we create more than products. We create stories that people get lost in, stories that mean so much more to people than we the authors do. That’s something important to remember.

****

Over the holiday weekend here in the U.S., WMG Publishing did some targeted advertising for our new Indie Writers Products Class. We’ve started experimenting with products that we’ll be marketing in the upcoming Pulphouse Kickstarter.

We showed off one of our new product designs and made it a focal point of the marketing we’re doing on the workshop. We also discounted the workshop (and the other workshops) for anyone who noticed during the holiday weekend. This was deliberate targeted marketing through Dean’s blog, which has a loyal readership.

That’s niche marketing. Just thought I’d point that out.

And while I’m mentioning things…

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“Business Musings: A Few Benefits of Niche Marketing,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

2 thoughts on “Business Musings: A Few Benefits of Niche Marketing (Niche Marketing Part 3)

  1. I kind of accidentally learned marketing by fishing for readers for my fanfiction. You want niche marketing, fanfiction is it. You make nothing off it, and people in other fandoms are not interested in your fandom. So you have to go hunting for your fandom. The way I did it was by making fan art of my own stories. I posted them on every fan site I could find. Nowadays I post fan art to all the hashtags on Insta, Tumblr, and so on. The beautiful thing about fan art is that it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to capture an emotion.

    Anyway, I got the bright idea to do that with my books. I make fan art of my characters, locations, etc., and spread them around on general fantasy hashtags with each new release. My community of readers isn’t very big, but it is very loyal, and I love them. I’ve been working on turning two books into graphic novels, one page at a time, that I post for free on various sites that host comics. I’m slowly building a readership there, too, and I have a steady trickle of sales each month.

    The internet is all about those visuals. Dave Farland said that when Runelords was coming out, he commissioned twelve artworks that he turned into a promotional calendar for the books. He sold the artworks one by one as postcards, and later on, he used some of it as book covers. I took that advice to heart. With the easy access to AI tools to create art, there’s no reason why authors can’t have some kind of attractive mockup of their characters and locations to show around. You can’t sell AI art, but then, you shouldn’t sell fan art of copyrighted IP, either!

  2. I have been amused lately by Instagram ads to “advertise on Hulu for only $500!”

    They do allow you to target by region, interest, and even program, but it’s still pretty random.

    Reminds me of when I bought a full screen ad at my local theater. It was fun, but I don’t think it moved any books.

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