“Choose the niche that you enjoy, where you can excel and stand a chance of becoming an acknowledged leader.” — Richard Koch
Niche marketing is more of a context for marketing than a marketing approach. Niches represent a specific pool of individuals who are targetable prospect. But before discussing how niches can represent a business opportunity, especially if they complement your strengths and personal interests, let’s be clear on what niches are not.
Women are not a niche because there are over four billion women worldwide and few commonalities exist among exceptionally large groups. To be effective, niches must be narrowly defined. Similarly, doctors or healthcare professionals are not a niche. Nor are retirees, pre-retirees, New Yorkers or business owners. There are too many not-a-niche examples to list, yet we often see these areas defined as niches on advisor websites.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you’re likely to find niches within each of these broader groups. Members of niches tend to:
- Share a common culture.
- Share affinities, challenges and many characteristics.
- Read and/or have interests in the same journals and/or magazines.
- Attend the same meetings or conferences.
- Have more of a tendency to know others in their sphere.
Think nurses employed by New York City hospitals, small manufacturing companies in New England or widows in the greater Chicago suburbs.
The potential is virtually endless, though niches should be of reasonable size so that you can access perhaps at least 300 to 500 individuals. It would also be best if you have multiple entry points to a niche — people you know reasonably well who can provide you with introductions.
As you will find, each niche has its own challenges. For example, healthcare professionals or attorneys are difficult to get access to and malpractice insurance demands often puts financial stresses on physicians.
Why chase niches?
Niche marketing is designed to differentiate you and establish your presence in several critical ways.
First, are or become an expert in how to reach prospects in the niche rather than a more helter-skelter, one-off approach to finding prospective clients. It also allows you to develop a marketing plan tailored to that niche based on your knowledge of their wants and needs.
Further, you do not need to know everything about all solutions, which can save you time. You “only” need to know well how to meet the needs of your niche. That could include their benefits plans.
You also know the niche members’ fears and hot buttons and you speak their language. You can be introduced by someone they know and trust, enabling you to leverage access to others in their niche who know and interact with each other. So when their talk turns to investing, you want your name to come up as the expert.
Overall, marketing to a niche is efficient and effective once you get going.
A case study
There are a number of strategies for successfully working with niches. Here I share some broad topics and how one of my clients, wealth advisor Eli Weissman of Spire Investment Partners, is executing them. Eli’s niche is Washington D.C. lobbyists.
Be comfortable working with your selected niche(s)
Eli selected his niche in part because prior to becoming a private wealth advisor he was a registered lobbyist in Washington D.C. for more than a decade. He’s walked in the shoes of his lobbyist clients, down the same hallowed halls of Congress, during good times and less than good times. He also owned his own lobbying practice, which gave him additional insights into the business.
Unlike Eli, you don’t necessarily need to have worked in the profession that you’re targeting for prospects. But you must have a strong interest in and a high degree of respect for your niche market. Other ways to immerse yourself in a niche to develop your expertise:
- Read about the group in their industry publications and understand their demographics and psychographics. Identify a list of group members and centers of influence who work with them. COIs can include CPAs and attorneys, consultants, media, support organizations, business brokers and transition experts, real estate professionals, etc.
- Develop and conduct interviews with perhaps 10 to 15 individuals to further your understandings and gather their financial issues, concerns/pain points and how they are addressing them, trends, lifestyles, interests, behaviors, future visions, etc. Where appropriate, understand their competitors. You must not use the interview plan as a marketing opportunity, or it will totally destroy your credibility. This is intended only as a learning opportunity.
Eli also conducted interviews to meet more lobbyists and to reaffirm his knowledge about their financial issues and other points mentioned above.
Identify your skills and capabilities, and how to address the wants and needs of the niche
For example, Eli needed to outline why lobbyists would want to do business with him, and emphasized his CFP® and CPWA® credentials. Only about one in three financial advisors in the U.S. hold the CFP designation. According to the Investments & Wealth Institute, there are currently 3,481 active designation holders of the CPWA. These financial professionals are trained to tend to estate and tax planning, financial planning, investing and many complex financial decisions of high-net-worth people.
Because of his background, Eli puts his financial knowledge into the terminology used by his target audience. As he explained to me, instead of a discovery meeting he holds a “hearing” to gather the information needed to prepare a comprehensive financial plan. When he speaks about updating a financial plan, he uses the term “mark-up.”
As a niche specialist, Eli knows how busy and time-constrained his targets are. So, he presents a quick yet concise snapshot of an overall financial package while emphasizing the potential issues of being under-insured, under-planned and under-protected. This is especially true for business owners who must be able to separate business and personal assets.
Allot 15 to 20 minutes for meeting No. 1 with prospects or clients, whether by phone or in person. The sole objective of this meeting should be to schedule a less-time-constrained meeting.
- Join your niche audience’s organizations. For example, Eli participates in webinars and events through the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, which his audience also attends. He also partners with a CPA and an estate attorney to plan live events.
- Develop and deliver educational content as part of your marketing plan. This is an ongoing part of Eli’s efforts. He regularly contributes on LinkedIn and has authored papers, produced videos, etc. He is also in the process of increasing his exposure by speaking and delivering educational content. For many advisors, finding forums that accept lesser-known individuals and attracting attendees for webinars can be challenging. I suggest starting with smaller opportunities and getting better known over time.
- Identify group members and prepare marketing efforts for them. This is a most interesting part of the process. Because of his experience, Eli knows how to identify registered lobbyists and firms using publicly available databases of lobbying disclosure reports.
The challenges in niche marketing are like general marketing issues:
- Everyone is busy. Your offer must be meaningful and crisp. Ask for a 15-minute meeting, arrive on time, set your phone alarm to finish in 13, thank the person, and get up to leave.
- Lack of differentiation. Many prospects believe all financial advisors are equal. It’s your job to differentiate yourself enough. It’s impossible to be one in a million, but you can be unique enough to win the business. As Eli put it, “If you need cataract surgery, you don’t want an orthopedic surgeon. Be the ophthalmologist!”
- Delayed decision-making. Lots of professionals focus on their area of expertise and put off financial planning. It’s important to create a sense of urgency and you’ll be more likely to succeed by speaking with both members of a couple.
- Skepticism. Many people are skeptical of “salespeople.” Yet, we are all salespeople. We all offer ourselves and our services or products. If it weren’t for salespeople, the world would be a big warehouse. Your prospects also sell, whether themselves or their solutions. We don’t grab people by the arm, shove a pen into their hand and force them to sign; we offer ourselves in a professional manner. Tell prospects why your offer is of value to them, whatever niche they are part of.
Expand your niche efforts
Widen your LinkedIn searches to include specific professions or organizations that also work with your niche. Also consider conducting “intimate client events” in which you invite clients and ask them to bring a friend in their same niche. By spending time with these groups, you can also develop comfort and confidence as.
Eli and I have also discussed that he can contact lobbying firms and offer himself as part of the firms’ “benefits offering.” This could involve participating in quarterly meetings on various educational topics such as financial planning, estate and tax planning, risk management, asset protection, how to invest in the company’s 401(k) plan, or any other financial topic. These are not sales topics, but the advisor would make her or himself available for one-on-one discussions after a group meeting. In essence, you are given access as a privilege for providing valuable information.
Niche marketing makes profound sense. If you’ve come to financial advising from an earlier career, think about targeting that niche. (See my article, “Former Engineer Focuses Advisory Practice on Tech Professionals.”) Any niche is worth exploring, as long as you narrowly define it and are willing to do your homework.
David Leo is founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and trainer to financial professionals. David has worked with the financial services industry for decades, originally as a consultant with IBM and then with UBS/Paine Webber before starting his own firm. If you would like more information about his services, contact him at David@CoachDavidLeo.com or visit www.coachdavidleo.com.