Forking Genius

Everybody is “niching down”, and it’s a sound strategy for everything from your podcast to your audio repair shop.

This article is basically the script for the audio above. Enjoy!

People in a variety of spaces, from podcasting to small business to application development to the manufacturing sector, have been talking a lot lately about the idea of “niching down”. For example, if a particular niche where you’d like to gain a foothold is too crowded, find a hole in that niche somewhere and conquer that instead.

Is the hamburger restaurant niche too crowded? What about a hamburger restaurant that grills all their burgers (hello, Burger King). That’s too crowded? How about a hamburger restaurant that grills all their burgers and has a crazy assortment of toppings? That’s too crowded as well? Hmm.. what about grilled burger place with crazy toppings where everything from the meat to the veggies in the toppings to the dairy in the milkshakes is from your own farm?  AHA! Maybe you’ve found something.

I’ve even heard this idea discussed in simpler terms related to geography. As an example – before you create your business plan to go from zero locations to being the most popular chain of auto repair shops in the country, focus first on having one location that is the most popular in your town.

In short, find a market niche you can dominate, and set up shop there.

Maybe, just maybe you’ll find enough traction in that niche that it becomes enough on its own to be sustainable.

Here’s the example I ran into this week: I saw a package from a company that specializes in premium cutlery made of plastic. You literally have no idea that these forks aren’t actually made of gold with bone handles until you pick them up and feel how light they are.

There are tons of these companies out there, including one that makes full sets of dinnerware out of wheat straw, with elegant-looking plates, bowls, cups, and a full set for eight people priced under forty bucks. And according to the reviews, everything about them is top-drawer until you start doing things that just don’t make sense, like using your Ginsu steak knives on them, or running them through the dishwasher every day.

Could these companies have simply jumped into the impossibly long list of companies that make white plastic forks, and tried to compete?

In an especially crowded marketplace, sometimes the secret lies in finding your strength somewhere in your competitors’ weakness.

McDonalds, for example, won the early rounds of the burger wars by being able to serve the food fast, consistently, and inexpensively because everything was the same in every restaurant. A Big Mac in Paris tastes the same as a Big Mac in Peoria.

What do you do? Exploit their weakness. Burger King comes along and reduces the “assembly line” feel to a McDonalds meal by focusing on the fact that at Burger King, you can have it your way.

In a subtle little piece of marketing genius, Burger King also took note of the fact that McDonalds hamburgers came in little boxes – arguably, the kind of boxes that McDonalds wanted their customers to fit into.

Burger King, for the longest time and maybe even to this day, wrapped their burgers in paper. Because you can’t fit a Burger King customer into a tiny little box. Every one is unique, just like every burger.

So do you seriously want to start a Star Wars podcast? Ugh. Great. There are only about 370,000 other Star Wars podcasts with whom you will be competing for attention.

What if, instead, you did a podcast for people who had effectively lost their partner to a science fiction obsession, and your show aims to bring them at least a little bit up to speed so they can at least sit and watch movies and episodes without wanting to gouge their eyes out with a spork?

What if every episode of your podcast featured interviews with married couples who met at science fiction conventions?

What if your podcast spoke every week to a different visual effects artist and aimed to teach the listener how to develop their own visual effects on the computer they have at home?

No matter what you do, from running a lemonade stand to a real estate agency to, like my friend Ralph, a podcast with financial advice for Christians, you can find some way to drill down a little deeper so that you discover an underserved group of consumers who are ready to become your biggest fans.

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