Niche Marketing Part One

From Kristine Katherine Rusch:

Niche marketing has existed since the beginning of marketing. Back in the day, though, companies didn’t call it “niche” marketing. These places marketed to their category or their type.

The idea that something could be marketed to everyone was a mid-20th century idea, bolstered by television. When programs went out to 120 million viewers or more every week, the way that Norman Lear’s shows  did in 1976, the idea of placing an ad on those programs was less niche marketing than trying to reach a percentage of that huge audience.

It wasn’t quite marketing to everyone, because advertisers were targeting Norman Lear shows like Sanford & Son and All in the Family, shows that were known for their liberal points of view. But still, the advertisers were trying to appeal to a broad swath of consumers rather than a select group of people who might fall in love with the product.

Now, appealing to a broad swath of consumers is almost impossible. We don’t have many venues—anywhere in the world—where we can advertise to hundreds of millions on a weekly basis. Here in the United States, the only programming that consistently brings in what’s now considered to be a large viewership are sporting events, and even that’s niche.

Most people here watch American football’s Superbowl, not because of who is playing, but to see the ads. Now, the ads play on YouTube and other venues before the big event, so people don’t even have to watch it.

This past week, I watched a lot of hockey, because the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The ads were different than they had been during the regular season. Less Vegas centric, and more product centric—anything from certain types of beer to…well…certain types of beer. The Vegas centric ads were less about local products and casinos and more about online sports betting.

Advertisers were aware that they were appealing to a wider audience, one that now included people in Florida, because Vegas was competing against the Florida Panthers. As a result, we also saw a lot of Disney vacation ads and even Disney movie ads.

It’s the job of many people at advertising agencies to make the decisions about how to market to a wide group of consumers and how to target consumers.

Social media created a frenzy for a certain kind of marketing, particularly by using influencers to target a very well known kind of consumer.

I had to laugh, though, as I went deep into the definitions of niche marketing for this blog series—and it will be a series, as I promised last week.  

Niche marketing is what traditional publishing is doing, and doing wrong.

Now, for that statement to make sense, you have to look at the history post that I put free for everyone on my Patreon page two weeks ago.

Here’s some information from that post that’s relevant to this one:

Sixty years ago, traditional publishing’s marketing was 100% niche marketing, geared at bookstores and book distributors. Eventually, the markets expanded outward to include department and grocery stores. But that was still niche—or in those days, targeted—marketing to a specific subset of businesses.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, traditional publishing is built on a Business to Business model (B2B). You’ll note that the targets above are all other businesses, not consumers. Up until the 1990s, it was the job of regional distributors to know what each bookstore and each grocery store needed for their racks.

I distinctly remember a regional distributor tell me that a certain Canadian fantasy writer was a bestseller in the America South, but that they couldn’t give his books away in Oregon.

That’s niche marketing on a B2B level.

It matters a lot less now to have B2B marketing in books. There are very few brick-and-mortar bookstores left. The online stores have infinite shelf space.

Writers have been relying on the algorithms of those online bookstores to target readers for their books, but the writers don’t know how to go about it. As Amazon and Google ads lose their effectiveness because the European Union (and other places) have policed them for privacy violations, writers have to figure out their own way to market to consumers.

The problem is writers in particular are stuck in the old traditional ways of doing things. Even the pioneers in modern book marketing are relying on the old traditional model.

When you see the gurus talk about marketing, they’re talking about marketing to a large swath of readers, rather than finding the right readers. Even when they’re discussing things like drilling down in Amazon ads to the also-boughts or a reader who might like a different book similar to yours, these gurus are still thinking like traditional publishers.

Ten years ago, I started up a series of newsletters. That was back in the day when writers were gathering 50,000 names on their newsletters with free promotions and giveaways and other gimmicks that would bring in names.

Those gimmicks died down, particularly when writers realized they had to pay for those names of people who signed up for free. Those people wanted the free book or the chance to win an iPad. They didn’t give a rat’s stinky behind about what book that writer promoted two months later, just like I didn’t care about the various kinds of beer pitched to me during the fifth game of the Stanley Cup finals, as Vegas dominated its way to victory. Those ads were wasted on me.

. . . .

Since I designed marketing ten years ago with my reader self in mind, I created different newsletter lists for my different pen names. I also created newsletter lists for my various series. I did the same with websites, although I let some go fallow. (That will change in the next six months as well.)

The gurus jumped all over me, telling me that I was wasting my time and energy and I should combine all of those lists into one giant list.

Well, I have one giant list. It’s for people who like all of my work. That’s the Kristine Kathryn Rusch list. It’s about three times bigger than my biggest list for a series. But if you take all of the pen names and all of the series and combine them, then I have way more names than I do on the Rusch list.

I don’t do that. I’ve promised readers that if they subscribe to, say, the list for my Diving series, they’ll only get news about my Diving series. I don’t bother them with information about any of the other series.

If I look at the weekly stats for my newsletters, I find it’s not uncommon to see someone unsubscribe from the Rusch newsletter and then turn around and subscribe to one of the series newsletters. Why? Because about every third Rusch newsletter, I remind people that they can get information targeted to the series that they’re interested in.

That, my friends, is niche marketing. To consumers. Who are self-selected.

A lot of those gurus who yelled at me are out of business now. They had 50,000 names on their newsletters, but only about 50 of those names were from people who liked their work.

Growing a readership is painstaking work. You tell good stories, let your readers know where they can get more stories like that from you, and ask them to join your newsletter so you can keep them informed about what you do.

You don’t goose the numbers. You let the readers come to you—after they’ve sampled your work.

The definition of niche marketing is this: You promote your products to a specific, well-defined audience. That audience is usually small, but it can be very loyal.

That loyalty will help you build your brand.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katherine Rusch

3 thoughts on “Niche Marketing Part One”

  1. I’m told that the late Andrew Offutt, author of sci-fi and sword-and-sorcery paperbacks so forgettable as to induce anterograde amnesia, also wrote an unnerving quantity of pornography under a legion of pen names. Over time his audience narrowed to just one well-heeled reader with very specific tastes who was willing to reward him handsomely for his work. There you have the true art of niche marketing.

    • I met the alternative early in the indie cycle — a colleague who decided to try his hand at tongue-in-cheek porn in the form of a wander through an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of landscape where one (and only one) of everything happened titillatingly as the subject promenaded.

      It was certainly humorous, but I tried in vain to explain the principle of kinks being… specialized. What reader would want the full panoply, and what specialist would only want one of his preference?

      • Some folks have found a market for “kink”.
        John Norman comes to mind.
        Late career Laurell K. Hamilton.

        Both started out mainstream but ended up a ways beyond. Lucratively, judging by the number of sequel titles.

        (I was dragged to one of her mid-career book signings. She proudly trotted our her boy-whatever. Explained a lot.)

        And, as I think I’ve mentioned, John Ringo ran a writing experiment to see how distateful an antihero he could cook up only to discover that no matter how hard he tried, the stuff *sold* enough to continue. Dialed up higher and higher until he couldn’t stand it and dialed it way back into something of a modern Doc Savage techno thiller. Got out a half dozen novels until he got bored and got a follower to take it over.

        TL:DR There’s a market for everything, if done “well enough” to, ahem, satisfy the audience.

        (I’ll not mention the entire KDP wing of erotica. I know it’s out there but I’m in no position to tell how well they meet their audience.)

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