Judging by its website, Gambill Photography is a fairly typical small photography business. The husband and wife team sell a set of different photography services aimed at the general public: engagements, weddings, seniors, babies and families. Even though there’s a big difference between the skills needed to photograph a baby and those that a photographer will need during a five-hour wedding shoot, they’re all shown off together on the company’s website. The navigation bar contains links to portfolios for each those photography niches.
Compare that to the way that Jerry Lodriguss sells his photography skills. Nowhere on the home page of his astrophotography website is there any mention that Lodriguss is actually a professional sports photographer. And nowhere on his sports photography landing page is there any indication that he also sells astrophotography stock. Those two niches are kept completely separate.
Marketers as famous as Seth Godin are always telling entrepreneurs, big and small, that they should spot a niche and conquer it. In practice though, sellers tend to aim for more than one niche at the same time. They sell wedding photography and baby photography, design logos as well as websites or program apps as well as database software. When should you push those niches together, and when should you separate them so that buyers believe that they’re talking to a specialist?
- What Do Buyers Want?
The first place to look for an answer is at the buyers. Gambill Photography’s services could all be bought by the same customer. A couple could hire the company for an engagement shoot, then a wedding shoot, baby photographs, family portraits and eventually seniors. Despite the differences in technique and work required for each of those jobs, the business will be trying to keep previous customers on board and remind them that they remain available as their family grows.
A customer who hires Jerry Lodriguss to shoot a sporting event is unlikely to also buy a shot of the Andromeda galaxy. He’s not interested in Lodriguss’s knowledge of astrophotography and night shooting. It’s not relevant now and it’s unlikely to be in the future. He just wants to be sure that the images he gets back from the game are going to be good enough for him to use. He wants to feel that he’s hiring a specialist in the niche in which he works.
When two niches appeal to the same market, sell them together; when they appeal to different markets, sell them separately.
- Spread the Brand
Even when you separate the niches though, you can still tie them together so that the benefits earned by succeeding in one are also enjoyed by the other.
The Economist, for example, is best known for its weekly newspaper. It’s less well-known for its Economist Intelligence Unit, a publishing company that puts out reports on countries, industries and economic data, as well as special reports on topics as varied as the cost of living and doing business in Myanmar. Those reports are much more expensive than the $270 annual subscription to the newspaper. A report on “Saving mobile broadband: ‘4G’ first movers: network and pricing strategies,” for example, costs $2,950.
The Economist separates its two niches. Readers of its newspaper receive general news about world politics and business; readers of its reports get highly specialized and detailed analyses of specific regions and industries. Those are two different kinds of readers — general and commercial — so each niche is marketed on its own.
But both niches depend on the newspaper’s reputation for clarity, detail and accuracy. Although a student reading a copy of The Economist to learn about the financial crisis in Europe is unlikely to fork out nearly $3,000 for a database of 4G pricing, a buyer of a special report from the Economist Intelligence Unit is also likely to be a subscriber to the newspaper. That customer will have come to associate The Economist’s logo with the company’s writing style, research and analysis. One niche brings in a customer and sells the customer on the company’s reliability. When the customer reaches the products sold in the commercial niche, he sees the logo and is reminded of the trust he feels in the company.
Logos and other branding tools can move trust and brand characteristics between separated niches.
- Managing Your Multiple Niches
So what does this mean for the owner of a small business or for someone looking to make money out of more than one passion?
It means that it pays to understand your market, identify the reason that one niche succeeds and know not just when to separate your niches but how to make the two work together.
One example of someone who does that is Ana Paula Rimoli, a designer of amigurumi, a kind of crocheted doll. Ana sells her dolls in an Etsy store which has made more than 8,000 sales. She also uses that store to promote her amigurumi books, a different product but one that appeals to a similar market. But Ana also has a second store on Etsy which sells hand-carved stamps. That store has made 167 sales.
Those are two very different products in two different markets and with different degrees of success. Ana is best known for being an expert on crochet dolls so she doesn’t push the stamps particularly hard. They’re mentioned in one line at the bottom of the announcement on her main store below several paragraphs about her books, patterns and presence on Twitter. She certainly doesn’t put her stamps in her main Etsy store alongside her crochet dolls. That would only confuse her regular customers and people who have heard about her and want to see her crochet work.
You can extend this principle beyond Etsy to websites and even bricks and mortar stores. When you’re planning to sell to more than one market, keep the niches separate but transfer the trust from one to the other. When you’re selling to the same market, push both niches at the same time and try to transfer buyers from one niche to the other.