Content Systems Academy

Part 10: The Critical Importance of a Niche Audience – Part 3

 In General, Series

Finding a Niche Within a Niche Can Help Your Content Thrive

What if you and an established competitor provide content to the same audience?

Let’s say you’re just starting out. You have a product or service about which you have content to share. Or maybe you’ve been publishing content for a while, but your audience growth is stagnant. Or worse, you’re slowly losing your audience.

Whichever scenario reflects your situation, to develop an appropriate strategy, you need to analyze the landscape, your capabilities, and your audience.

An established competitor may have been the first mover. A first mover is an individual or organization that was first to address a content need. Typically, the first mover has competitive advantage – they have brand recognition and a loyal, engaged audience. They also have proprietary data – they have audience insight gleaned from the work they’ve been doing which informs their content strategy. Does this mean you have no shot and should rethink your whole purpose and mission?

Not quite.

Look for a niche within the niche. Start by examining your audience to see if there’s a subset of people within it who share a need or have a similar problem that your competitor is not addressing. For example, our autism project serves a narrow group of people: autistic high school students interested in science who want to transition to college. That’s a subset of a larger autistic audience. If you break it down from wide to narrow, it looks like this:

All Autistic Individuals > Autistic High School Students > Autistic Students Transitioning to College > Autistic Students Transitioning to Science-Focused Education

Numerous resources exist for autistic audiences. Some touch upon how to transition to science programs at colleges. Our qualitative research showed this audience wanted more. They wanted a one-stop, dedicated resource specifically focused on the college transition, concentrated on science programs. They also wanted content by autistic individuals.

How do you analyze a niche audience to see if a subset exists? It’s not a simple task. Here was our initial approach:

Identify the players currently dominating the field. These are the titans, the established sites that are consistently producing high quality, valuable content.

Identify the influencers within this space and see what content they’re producing and for whom.

Research and map out their audiences with specificity. Some of this research will be easily available, such as reviewing analytics and reading forums. Some may only provide clues. A clue, for example, would be a site’s alignment with conferences and sponsors. More clues can be uncovered on social platforms. For example, using tools like SocialAlert allows you to review someone’s Twitter stats. In addition to posts, retweets and mentions, a tool like this can also show followers and followers with high follower-counts. And those with high follower-counts could be influencers.

These three tasks require a lot of work, and our methods are shared in future posts.

Once we did this, then we had to look for the niche within the niche.

Four Steps to Identifying a Niche Within a Niche

Finding a neglected or underserved subset of people within a niche requires a lot of research. And if you put in the hard work here, you will be rewarded with information and insight that may make the difference between success and failure.

  1. Review your competitor’s web and social analytics. This step helps you benchmark your site and gives you insight into your competitor’s work and impact. I’ll admit this can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially for the non-technical creative who just wants to share content. So, if examining traffic reports and demographic measurements aren’t your thing, there are freelancers who do this and interpret the findings. However, if you want to check things out, here are two sites that can help you get web traffic data: Quantcast and SimilarWeb. Just know these tools won’t work on all sites, and some of the data may be estimated or old. RivalIQ has tools to help you uncover and examine your competitor’s social media strategy. When I review competitors’ analytics, I am looking to answer what makes these posts so successful? Beyond headline, keywords, and word count, I look at less quantifiable components such as voice, perspective and utility. Once you have a clearer sense of what people really value from your competitors, you’ll be better informed to respond to evergreen needs while also carving out your own space.
  2. Read forums and discussion boards. Look for patterns. Are people on Quora, Reddit, and Twitter complaining about the same things? Are they asking for recommendations or solutions to the same problems? If they are and your competitors don’t have what they’re looking for, that could be your opportunity. Your content may not be a perfect match, but with some adjustment or tweaking, your content could be exactly what they’re looking for.
  3. Talk to your audience. Reviewing web and social analytics is the quantitative work, and talking to your audience is the qualitative work. This tactic is crucial. Unlike survey responses, one-on-one conversations or small focus groups give you the opportunity to ask questions, listen to responses and ask follow-up questions. It’s through these discussions that you’ll uncover unmet needs. The trick is to shut up and just listen.
  4. Consider interests AND demographics. In the world of knitting, for example, passionate knitters share a similar interest. They love knitting and can’t get enough of it. They love reading about the differences between a Garter Stitch and Moss Stitch. Knitters are a niche audience. They’re a subset of the Arts and Crafts audience. Let’s assume you’re one of these passionate knitters and you want to share your knowledge with the rest of the world. You dream about quitting your day job to focus on creating and selling knitted products. Plus, you want to supplement your income by producing and monetizing knitting content. A quick online search shows that there are a few established sites already publishing similar content. You conduct a deeper dive and see that there are more than a few, there are many.

Don’t let that stop you. Search for a niche within the niche.

You can map the niche audience by breaking it down into segmentation attributes. In The Lean Product Playbook, Dan Olsen details how market segmentation can be used to define your target audience by identifying and grouping audience attributes. His explanation was helpful when we created a framework of a target audience for our autism project. The four segmentation attributes are: Behavioral, Demographic, Needs-Based and Psychographic. Behavioral identifies an audience’s specific or repeated action. For example, within the audience of knitters, a behavior may be knitting while taking public transportation. Demographic identifies, for example: age, gender, education level, income, home ownership, marital status, religious affiliation, etc. Pay special attention to the needs-based segment. This can be broken down into two sections: all needs and unmet needs. On our autism project, we learned that college-bound autistic high school students wanted a single, one-stop resource that provided support via content and a community of engagement. And Psychographic identifies the audience according to attitudes, opinions and values. Looking at your audience through these four segmentation attributes helps critical analysis because it gives you a fuller understanding of who is seeking content AND whether or how your content fits their unmet needs.

Returning to our knitting example, what if your research uncovered a very small segment of teenage boys who knit their own caps for skateboarding? You find they’re searching on forums for ideas to make custom caps with skulls that represent their individual skater personalities. They need these custom-knitted skullcaps for their monthly Clash of the Crews meet-ups that happen all over the US. So, roughly: Behavioral-every month this niche participates in a meetup; Demographic-teenage boys; Needs-Based-they need ideas for skull caps; and Psychographic-they need to express/represent individuality. You have identified your niche within a niche audience, and you clearly understand their unmet needs.

You can’t stop there. You need to do more digging to make sure this niche isn’t too narrow or trendy and short-lived. But, once you start, the insights you gather will lead to exciting discoveries and the momentum is created. Identifying and understanding an underserved niche within a niche is every savvy content marketer’s dream.

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