Answers to These 4 Niche Marketing Questions Will Make You Smile… or Weep
Here's the definition of niche marketing cool: You beat your competitors to the punch by publishing content and an offer (linked to a landing page, of course) for providing assistance about a hot topic or issue, and leave your competitors twiddling their thumbs, coughing in the dust trail you’ve created when pulling away from them.
Here’s the definition of niche marketing NOT cool: Cough! Cough! Cough!
In the world of professional services marketing, there’s a heck of a lot more thumb twiddlers and coughers than road runners, and where your firm stands is largely a function of how marketing adept your niche practice leaders are. If you’re twiddling and coughing, that means that you simply have not done enough to get a competitive edge, and you may not even know what your competition is doing to you … until you’re coughing or twiddling.
That means it’s time for you to step up and develop a competitive strategy that begins with knowing what your competitors are up to.
4 Questions You’ll Want Answered
You certainly can “go ostrich,” stick your head in the sand, and pretend that other firms competing in your space can’t match your skills, qualifications, expertise, etc. But I’m not talking about a war of skills or qualifications… I’m talking about a war of marketing for purposes of more viability, leads, and new business for your niche.
A few weeks ago I published a post called “How a Niche Market Practice Leader Becomes a Marketing Guru,” and made the point that niche practice leaders have a responsibility for understanding and monitoring competitors’ marketing initiatives. I wanted to take a deeper dive in this post and present four questions that should be answered and made part and parcel of every niche practice leaders’ growth plans:
- How, what, and where are we different from our competition?
All too often, niche practice marketing is built around hubris rather than addressing what makes the niche different from competitors and why those differences are meaningful to prospects and their concerns. Here’s an example of what I mean from a Top 100 CPA firm’s web page on healthcare:
“We bring unsurpassed levels of technical excellence, commitment, and dedication to our clients that have made us one of the most successful CPA firms…”
There’s not a single one of this firm’s competitors that can’t say the exact same thing, right? As a matter of fact, take a look at one of your niche web pages and you might find yourself guilty of the very same hubris.
You need to look beyond hubris to see what, how, where, and when your competition is differentiating itself from your practice. Here’s a couple of things they may be highlighting in their marketing that you aren’t:
- Client base
- Licenses, credentials
- Payment models
- Thought leadership
Just to make it fun, if a team strays off the ranch away from real, tangible differentiation, charge them $5 for every hubristic differentiator they come up, then go out and have a heck of a lunch.
- What’s our competition’s digital footprint?
Frankly, it's now easier than ever before to see what your niche’s competitors are up to by taking a look at their digital footprint. Start with a Google search (name of firm, niche), and do the same for yourself. That’s what your prospects see when they’re checking you out. Now be honest… are you coughing?
Although it doesn’t report down to the niche level (unless you’re a boutique professional services firm), you might also want to check out SimilarWeb. They offer a free tool where you can get data on you and your competitors for things like a traffic overview, sources, referral sources, social media footprint, and a lot more.
Here’s a starter list of basic competitive digital footprint data you’ll need to be able to see how you’re stacking up:
- LinkedIn group participation
- LinkedIn Page
- Niche-specific blog posts
- Niche-specific content on the site
- Niche-specific eNewsletter
- Optimized webpages
- Pay-per-click usage
- Social sharing buttons
- Are they using thought leadership as a marketing tool and, if so, what are they doing?
One of the most significant differentiators in my opinion is the presence (or absence) of thought leadership published on the site by various practitioners in the niche. There’s a huge variety of tactics for publishing thought leadership, from blog posts to videos. If you'd like to dive into these, check out our whitepaper, The Partner’s Guide to Content Marketing, here.
From the point of looking at what your competitors are doing, again, I urge you to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If they’re delivering thoughtful, insightful, and timely information about a particular pain, issue, or key change—and you’re not—exactly what message do you think they’re delivering? Conversely, by absence of thought leadership, what message do you think you’re delivering from a competitive perspective?
Your competitors that have committed to a thought leadership strategy are also promoting that thought leadership aggressively, using distribution channels like their website, blog, email, newsletters, and even digital ads to capture and drive eyeballs to them.
It’s always a little sad to me when I talk to firms that don’t get this, or feel that the investment in resources or time is just too much to execute a thought leadership strategy. After you do a dive on your competitors’ site, if you’re behind the curve when it comes to getting your thought leadership published, then it may be time for some new thinking.
- What are they doing to generate leads that we’re not doing?
The last question you need to ask is whether or not your competitors have a dedicated lead generation program that’s a lot more than just “Contact Me” or “Subscribe to Our Newsletter.”
Here’s the secret tell: If you go to their site and see an offer for a some type of content—from a workshop to a whitepaper—that requires the visitor to fill out a form, then your competitors are doing what’s known as top of the funnel or middle of the funnel lead generation. In effect, they have a marketing strategy for their niche that’s designed to get prospects to raise their hand and identify themselves as a possible client.
Time for a deep breath: Your competitors may also have the technology in place for marketing automation and a CRM system to help manage the prospect nurturing process. The presence or absence of these capabilities isn’t readily apparent, but we have a few tricks up our sleeves that let us take a pretty good guess as to whether automation and a CRM are part of your niche competitors’ capabilities.
Call me and I’ll share these with you!
You Can Go Even Deeper, But…
In doing a competitive analysis, you could go a lot deeper—like trying to identify customers or taking a stab at market share calculations, or even doing painstaking research and analysis on digital markers like backlinks and key words. If you’re interested in this, then check out this blog post from KissMetrics, “25 Sneaky Online Tools and Gadgets to Help You Spy on Your Competitors.”
Here’s my advice: Crawl before you walk or run.
Unless you’re a mighty big firm, it’s pretty likely that no professional on your staff or in your marketing department has the bandwidth to do these types of analyses, let alone develop and then execute strategies and tactics like a comprehensive backlink strategy. I’m certain that you’ll have your hands full with proactive and reactive strategies just from the insights you’ll get from the four questions.
Once you’ve got those initiatives up, running, and maintained, move deeper on the competitive analysis trail.
Then You Win
I love that quote from Jack Ma of Alibaba, as it applies just as strongly to a professional service firm boutique or niche practice as it does to an online superstore. It just seems to me that most niche practice leaders operate like they exist in a competitive vacuum rather than a competitive maelstrom.
What an opportunity for a practice leader to grow, eh?
While it doesn’t take very long to do the type of competitive analysis I’ve outlined in this post, the challenge is to develop and fund the strategy and tactics that will get your niche competitive advantages that can very well fly under the radar screen of your competitors.
And, those advantages should last for a fairly long time, as they’ll be twiddling madly away while trying to stop that irritating cough that just seems to be getting worse and worse.