by Michel Fortin
In the competitive marketplace of the new millennium, the demand for specialized products or services will increase. If your site sells everything or to everyone, chances are that your audience will not perceive any greater value in shopping from you than anyone else.
The more generic you become, the greater your competition will be, since you’ve placed your offering in the same ring as the Wal-Marts, Targets and eBays of the world.
In other words, cast a wider net, and the likelihood that more competitors who are trying to go after the same “fish” will occupy the same marketspace.
Unless you are trying to be another Wal-Mart, there’s no use competing with them. The sheer size of such Goliaths gives them a sizeable competitive advantage — purchasing power.
That is, they can buy their stock at considerable bulk discounts, giving them the low price advantage with which most small businesses cannot compete.
Keep in mind that price is never an issue — what’s important is the value behind the price.
Price is an arbitrary figure that merely represents the value of an offering. Here’s an example: you walk to your local home furnishings store. You ask the sales clerk, “How much for that washer?” to which he responds, “$600.” “Wow! That’s a lot of money,” you exclaim. “The price is way too high for me. I just cannot afford that.”
This is a typical knee-jerk response.
Moments later, you walk by a car dealership and notice that favorite new car you’ve been itching to buy for the last month and a half. You walk in. “It’s $25,000,” says the salesperson. “Wow! That’s great!”
You drive it off the lot that same day.
If you could not afford the $600 washer, why could you afford the $25,000 car? So, price is never an issue. In the case of the car, the perceived value matched or surpassed the price, which wasn’t the case with the washer — i.e., the washer was too pricey based on its perceived value.
Therefore, if your value is perceived as equal to that of others, naturally the cheapest alternative will win. Price is only a metric — a currency to which most people can relate.
Take the weather, for example. When you meet someone for the first time, the weather will likely be a topic of discussion. In terms of degrees or temperature, the weather is the same for everyone. But “hot” and “cold,” however, are different.
Similarly, price is only used when there’s nothing to which one can compare your value. (Of course, price is not the only metric, but it is the most common one. Most people easily understand units of dollars rather than value. Value is more subjective and personal. It cannot be measured.)
Therefore, if you’re too similar to your competition, price will always then be (or become) an issue.
However, the more unique you are, the less competition you will have. And the less competition you will have, the less substitutable you are (or your product is). And the less substitutable you are, the less elastic the demand for your product will be (i.e., the less important price becomes, in this case).
So, if you try to copy your competition, or trying to promote your offering as one that’s better than your competition, like it or not you’re only reminding people of that which you are better: your competition!
It’s better to be different than it is to be better.
Being all things to all people will likely help you to stumble onto some people who will visit your site and respond to your offer — it’s the law of averages. Increase your hits and you will increase your sales.
But that’s not the problem. The problem, with such an approach, is the fact that you must generate a large quantity of hits in order to produce a certain result.
It is absolutely true that, if you want a lot of hits, you want your site (or access to it) to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible. But what about quality? Would it matter if your site generates an incredible quantity of uninterested visitors that will simply never buy from you?
Would you prefer less than 1% of 10,000 visitors? Or 10% of 500?
For those who wish to find more effective and cost-efficient ways of selling online, then attracting a higher quality stream of website visitors — that is, attracting interested, pre-qualified visitors that are genuinely interested in the website’s offer and ready to buy — is definitely a better alternative.
The more general or broad you are, the more you will need to paint your website or content with broad brushstrokes in order to appeal to everyone. In the end, the traffic you do generate will be just as general or broad.
Even if your product is a perfect fit for some visitors, it will only be a fit for a small percentage. Additionally, the broad nature of your offer and the image you project will likely convey that your value is equal to that of others and that there’s no added value in buying from you than in buying from others.
This is when price becomes the metric with which people will measure your value.
Additionally, out of the small handful of qualified prospects that hopefully hit your site, a large number of them — if not all of them — will likely leave due to your apparent lack of understanding of their specific needs, goals and concerns. In short, the more general you are, the more you are compared to others and therefore the more you dilute your value.
In other words, the more general you are, the less value you have.
However, the sales you generate will increase dramatically if your site is narrowly centered on a specific theme, product, audience or outcome. And niche marketing has an added benefit: the need to produce a sufficient quantity of visitors to produce similar results will lessen considerably.
Offline, being everything to everyone is understandable to a certain degree since, geographically, a niche will likely be small. Online, however, niche marketing can work since a market will expand, even if it is a small niche.
But it’s a double-edged sword.
Since the web increases your target market, it also increases the competition as a byproduct. Again, cast a wider net, and the likelihood that your net will fall into someone else’s waters will be higher.
Offline, location is important. And a competitor next door can be your biggest headache. But online, thousands of competitors have instantly become your neighbors.
Thus, niche marketing is even more important online since, by narrowing your focus, you both increase your niche AND decrease your competition!
Here’s an illustration: let’s say that your best client is the corporate executive earning $50,000 annually or more, and that your site receives approximately 200,000 hits per month.
If your site’s message aims for the public at large, you have a problem. There will only be a small percentage of that ideal market (i.e., corporate execs earning $50,000) that will hit your site. (And an even smaller percentage will genuinely be qualified for, and interested in, your offering).
For the sake of example, let’s say that this percentage is around 0.1%. That means that, out of 200,000 monthly visitors, only 200 will fit your perfect customer profile (and that’s a very optimistic figure).
Since your site is too general or too vague, an even smaller percentage of those 200 executives — let’s say about 0.5% — will be truly interested in your offer and eventually buy. In this case, 0.5% (of 200 qualified visitors) would equal to a mere client for an entire month.
(Following me so far?)
Looking at it in reverse it means that, if you want to achieve at least a single sale per month from this ideal market, your site will thus require at least 200,000 visitors on a monthly basis. So, based on the law of averages your marketing efforts will need to multiply exponentially in order to create a high enough quantity of traffic to yield acceptable results.
Now, take the example of another website dedicated exclusively to corporate executives earning over $50,000.
However, this site receives a meager 5,000 visitors per month — admittedly, it’s not a lot, especially when compared to the other. But in this case, the percentage of those 5,000 that fall into that site’s target market will be 100% — if my math is correct, that’s a 10,000% improvement.
Furthermore, the percentage of interested leads that are in a much better position to buy will be far higher by virtue of the fact that the site centers on their specific needs, goals and concerns. The perceived value of the site, in other words, will be greater in the mind of those specific prospects.
To be conservative, let’s say that this percentage is only 5%. It means that out of 5,000 visitors per month, one can achieve 250 sales — that’s 249 more sales than the other (and, on top of that, with only a quarter of the traffic).
But let’s be a little more conservative for a moment. Let’s say that only 1% buys. It’s still a remarkable 400% improvement over the other, as 1% of 5,000 visitors equals to 5 sales per month (4 more than the other).
Of course, the above example is when all things considered are equal — I agree that there are many variables, here. But the spirit of this illustration is clear: it took an equal if not lesser investment of time, effort and money to achieve 250 sales per month than it did to achieve a single one.
So, there is much truth to the statement that you will get more with less. And online, where there is so much more of nothing, less is indeed more.
Therefore, the paradox is true on the Internet: by narrowing your focus, you will likely broaden your chances of online success.
Although most business owners are aware of clear, target marketing strategies to achieve results that could be far more effective and cost-efficient, the ideology remains: to be successful one must be everywhere. That statement may be true to some degree and should not be discounted…
… But it is far better to be everywhere that matters.
In other words, your message should appear in front of those people who will likely read your ad and take action. If you promote your online business in places in which your target market is likely to congregate, it is fair to admit that your immediate costs will likely be higher.
Targeted marketing is not cheap. However, the bottom-line is the fact that your visitor value will increase substantially as a result. That’s more important.
In essence, it will certainly be cheaper for you to spend the money in these targeted areas than it would be in trying to find those ideal clients any other way.
Remember that your goal should be to attract people to your site who have a genuine interest in what you have to offer. Targeting as many people as possible particularly with a message that appeals to only a portion of them may produce a fair amount of hits. But it will mostly consist of people who will never be your clients anyway — you will attract the curious and not the serious.
With all things being equivalent, if your ad appears on a site that caters to your ideal market, you may get less hits but you will certainly get more sales.
Nevertheless, combining targeted and niche-based marketing strategies can make substantial improvements over general, non-focused marketing. By lessening your market as well as the market to which you advertise, you will proportionately increase your sales.
Jim Banks started selling carpets online in 1998. He admits that, at the time, he knew nothing about it. Says Banks: “I thought that it would be a non-competitive market (‘who would want to sell carpet online?’ I asked myself) and it would allow me to learn about this whole new Internet thing.”
But at first, Jim floundered.
“I showed carpet on the website, sent out samples, and used a wholesaler in Georgia to deliver the goods. I made some money, but it was a lot of hard work. In fact, a lot of hand-holding of customers was required, and my time was a limiting factor in how much money I could make.”
But then, Jim had an idea. He adds:
“I had read one or two of your articles at the time where you stressed the importance of niche marketing. And after thinking about that, and applying it to my industry, I came up with the idea of selling carpets and area rugs with children’s designs (e.g., animals, letters, game boards, etc). Today, things are going very well!”
(By the way, see Jim’s site at KidCarpet.com.)
In conclusion, here’s my advice: if you’re looking at starting a business online, first find a niche and fill it. But if you already are doing business online, then narrow your focus to a specific outcome, audience or product.
And finally, if you do sell everything to everyone already, I suggest breaking your business down by developing several sites, which sell the same things but targeted towards different segments of your market.
Don’t be the best. Be the first. As Earl Nightingale once said, “Don’t copy. Create!”
In other words, don’t duplicate. Differentiate.
About the Author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author, speaker and consultant. Watch him rewrite copy on video each month, and get tips and tested conversion strategies proven to boost response in his membership site at http://TheCopyDoctor.com/ today.