Niches – now you see them, now you don’t

Instead of coming to Munich, of course, I could have turned to Wikipedia to find out how to make money in niches: “By seeking out smaller segments of larger markets, referred to as “niches”, a website can be developed and promoted quickly to uniquely serve a targeted and usually loyal customer base, giving the affiliate a small but regular income stream”. Obviously niches are business model. No wonder when looking for niches on the web you quickly come across such sites as “earn money online”. The picture on top of the google list regarding “niches” is really telling the same story: Leave no stone unturned.

Listening to a.i.m.r.i. friends was, however, a much better idea: The cases presented made up for a most inspiring session exploring both niches for the research business and niches for our clients. Finding those niches for our clients is finding our own niche!

George Head showed us how to sample niche markets in an optimum situation of costs and sample quality, Peter Bennet, Vicky Kateley and Charles Pearson presented some business cases on how to dig for $$ in niches whereas William Hardiman, Fritz Brandeis, Christina Tidics and Daniel Lemon provided down to earth insights into niche markets.

The latter, to my view, not so much illustrated how particular the Swedes are (so they probably think of the rest of the world – but so do we all) but what potential still lies in local markets: The Swedish export hit “snooze” is obviously a goldmine in Sweden otherwise the client wouldn’t invest in research to such a degree. The snooze panel furthermore made us eager to discuss panel management with new perspectives in Rome next March

As with most seminars that appear to deal with quite specific topics I realized also this time that discussing e.g. “niches” will eventually lead back to basic aspects of our profession: Insights regarding business opportunities for our clients are our most important own business opportunities. In this context, the seminar on niches was a most fruitful event as it dealt with these basic challenges from a new viewpoint.

George Head: How to optimize efficiency and representativIty

George Head with his presentation illustrated well how research – like any competitive market - is always a compromise between benefits, quality and price: The key is to balance the bias that will occur when recruiting niche samples in most pragmatic ways (“find them where you can…”) with a scientific screening process that may be the search of the needle in the hay stack not paid for by anybody. This balance, of course, has to be defined with every project. But don’t you have the impression – just as I do – that creative research is certainly not defined by the data source, but nevertheless the data source is not completely irrelevant either?

Peter Bennet: Keywords to discover demand surpassing supply

Peter Bennet elaborated on long tailed keywords and also came up with a most pragmatic definition of “niche: “Something I make or do which others don’t” illustrating the point that niches are business models, far from any given scientific definition. Furthermore niches are nothing but a simple illustration of what we should have known in business all along: Niches are market situations where “customers (are) willing to pay you more in margin than it costs you to find them”. A last wisdom from Peter really made me aware again, that not marketing wizards like us define if e.g. Kinesiology is a niche but the market is. So niches are not defined by our own concepts but by our ability to see potential and to exploit it properly.

William Hardiman made us very much aware of the research potential of niche markets such as private banking and came up with an interesting format for a research data cockpit for market levers. Fritz Brandeis proved once more and again that the “success factors for entering specialists B2B markets” are really the same as anywhere in business: The client’s perception defines what a niche market is. If so perceived then niches account for higher profits and more sustainability. Unlike Fritz I would not elaborate on the differences between capital goods or services/ consumer goods. As shown, snoozers are a niche and so are i-podists. Maybe with capital goods it is often technical niche features whereas with services/ consumer goods communication creates the niche, but the consequence is the same: Also with capital goods technical features have to be communicated convincingly.

Vicky Kateley and Charles Pearson: New insights from consumers in transition

Besides broadening definitions regarding niche segments - particularly the fact that niches are really nothing but the emergence of mass markets – Vicky and Charles made us very much aware that a success factor of niche research relies within the ability to discover the “ripples” of a surge to come. Those ripples are obviously felt well in groups of consumers in phases of “transition”. Pregnancy and birth are such phases. No wonder niche research found out that e.g. pregnant women are emancipating from being “mediastackers” to being “influencers” in much higher degree than other women.

Furthermore Vicky and Charles very much made us aware – again – that running a panel should reflect the uniqueness of the target group it represents. Looking at how online panels are run you could turn to darkest seizures of cynicism in this context… Finally we heard that the ROI of niche panels can be greatly enhanced if you share the investment with partners. Don’t we forget time and time again that our competitors in one field maybe our allies in another?

The Swedes – a real niche or just strange?

To finish things up Christina Tidics and Daniel Lemon made us a little more familiar with the world of the Vikings while adapting the niche concept to the world of Swedish consumers. Their presentation of this market of Mio 9,11 consumers made me – a Swiss – a little envious of what the speakers defined to be a niche. In Switzerland we are confronted with e.g. a language niche of some 30’000 inhabitants speaking “Rumantsch”, Switzerlands fourth national language. But then again, it is not the seize that defines a niche but its uniqueness. 

Hans-Ruedi Hertig

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