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UBC Post 2: Breaking out of a Niche: Belgian Sake anyone?

That's the thing about brands: they're more often based on the associations and notions attached to a brand rather than on reality.

I was out earlier on today and passed a rather unusual bottle. It was labelled "French Vodka". I've never seen French vodka before, nor for that matter Russian cognac.

Now, I don't know if there's even such a thing as Russian cognac (I suspect there is), but if there was I'm not sure I'd want to try it, any more than I was tempted by the idea of French vodka.

So it's nothing to do with the reality of what the drinks are like. It's just that in my mind (and I suspect yours too), the French make cognac, and the Russians make vodka.  Think of it as each country's brand in the drinks market.

And never the twain shall meet.

That's the thing about brands: they're more often based on the associations and notions attached to a brand rather than on reality. French vodka may be really nice. I'll never know.

When we try to go beyond the confines of a brand or niche–when we do things that are outside our position or reputation–it's not necessarily a bad thing.

French vodka doesn't work for me.

But what about an operating system manufacturer releasing a games console? (hands up if you own a Microsoft Xbox)

Or a computer manufacturer releasing an MP3 player (iPod anyone?)

So what's the difference?

Well first,making a French vodka puts the French in direct competition with a "brand" that is already established and dominant in the vodka market: Russia.

Second, in the world of drinks, "French" summons up ideas of grapes, wine, distilled wine (brandy, including Cognac), etc. All very different from vodka.

Third, I'm not really sure what being "french" adds to a vodka.

The Xbox and the iPod were both products that were launched into markets where there wasn't a dominant player.

The iPod succeeded because it was sold to existing Apple customers in the first instance, and solved a different problem they had (how to carry around a lot of music to listen to at will). Compared to existing MP3 players, it added an integrated store to buy and manage their music (iTunes) which at the time was unique. Finally, Apple leveraged its reputation for delivering beautiful bits of kit to then introduce a whole new group of consumers to the Apple tribe.

The Xbox struggled initially because the overlap between the world of games players and PC users wasn't perhaps as great as might have been expected. It was saved when the Kinect was launched, and added a whole new level of interaction to the world of gaming that wasn't available anywhere else (even Wii was left behind). The Kinect has allowed Microsoft to bring many diehard gamers to their platform.

So there's the clue to breaking out of your existing position or reputation and entering a new niche when the time comes:

  1. don't take on major players in a niche or market head-on
  2. use existing customers as a springboard
  3. deliver something unique that's missing from your competitors' offers
  4. leverage the strengths of your existing reputation to attract new people into your tribe.

OK, that's it for today. I'd love to know your thoughts (especially if you've tried French vodka!)

1 Comment

  1. IanHphoto says:

    Good advice Rob – breaking into a new niche market is never easy, and I think leveraging existing clients and using them is a great idea.

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