I recently wrote about Doug Hall who has a lot to say about product diversification in manufacturing. One of his favorite lines is, "If you’re not unique, you’d better be cheap."
I couldn’t agree more. But, as I’ve written more than once, developing new products or offerings from existing skills and resources isn’t easy. I’ve always felt that the main problem is simply inertia. We all feel more comfortable doing what has worked in the past. And setting out to conquer new markets is never comfortable.
Anita Campbell, the force behind Small Business Trends, has articulated a new difficulty with niche marketing : the fear of being straight with customers about your niche.
I’ve encountered this problem hundreds of times with my own clients over the years. Particularly in writing (e.g. on a web page, in a brochure, or in a direct mail promotion), business owners fear that if they define their niche clearly, they will exclude potential customers who want a product/service that is close to what they do, but not in the center of their sweet spot. As Anita points out, software companies are particularly guilty of this, but they’re not alone.
My advice concerning marketing materials is, the narrower your description of what you sell, the better. I’ll share an example from my personal experience, but it could apply to a wide variety of manufacturing businesses, particularly job shops.
For several years, I ran an advertising agency, and during that period I was pitched by dozens of professional photographers. Their portfolios were all the same.
There would be a product shot, a table-top shot, an exterior shot with natural lighting, a formal portrait, and one or two "artistic" shots, e.g. a donkey cart against an old stone wall in southern Spain. These shots were universally good, in focus, and well-mounted, just like the shots of every other photographer who pitched me.
But one day, a photographer came in who said, "My specialty is shooting executives in natural light for annual reports." That’s all he showed. And it was really good work.
We didn’t merely call this guy when the need arose. We actually talked about how we could fit executives shot in natural light into projects so we’d have an excuse to use him. And that led to more work for him in other areas.
I hired photographers because they specialized in what I needed – food, fashion, high-tech, sports/action. etc. – but once I had worked with them, I frequently learned they could do a lot more than their specialty. Having built a good working relationship and established trust, I used them for a much broader variety of work over time.
The bottom line: Hook a customer with what you do best, and then, once they’re a customer, hit on them for projects that are beyond your sweet spot but will help you expand your offerings. It works, and it’s the most efficient way to build your business.