Big firms are like elephants. They have a major presence. But in those narrow spaces between each giant is a small mouse that has found a way to thrive.
Small agencies that play in niche markets have found pockets of commerce overlooked by their larger rivals. And they offer good prospects for growth.
All this sounds promising. But first, you have to spot the niche.
Take B3NET Bio. It started out as a generic web design shop, but then switched to doing direct marketing for bio-pharma, life science and pharmaceutical companies five years ago as the web became more specialized.
The Cargo Agency in Greenville, SC, was already a digital marketing agency, but focused on marketing to small businesses after a thorough self-examination, looking for a way to differentiate itself from the competition.
One400 spotted a real need for digital marketing in the legal sector, knowing that static web sites were not enough to attract clients.
Paladin saw a need for vetted advisors that investors could trust, and thus began digital marketing in the financial industry.
Niche markets are assumed to be small. Do not judge the size of the market by its width, but by its depth.
Knowledge makes the market
Niche players have to get the client to come to them. That means offering some kind of information or service that entices the client to take his inquiry to the next click. Or it can be offering a degree of specialization that cannot be matched by a generic competitor.
“Knowledge is power.” said Sudeep Banderjee, founder of B3NET Bio. “Most of the companies do not focus on conversion, marketing automation, leveraging the website to build sales. This requires deep understanding of the market.” he said. “There is a barrier to entry in this niche. Knowledge and experience of this (the medical) industry is key. It takes several years to develop that knowledge base and skills.”
Making the leap to a specialty takes some guidance. “Our base experience and skills can always be taken from niche vertical to another.” Bandarjee observed.” That is what I precisely did. I was former Advertising executive working for the multinational ad agencies. I moved into Brand Management for a diagnostic company for several years. I also worked on cosmaceutical brands. All these experiencse came into play when we launched B3NET Bio.”
Knowledge became the firm’s competitive edge. To maintain it, B3NET looks for people who know the market rather than knowing how to market. “We recruit Masters in bio chemistry in our team who work as vertical managers. These managers, because of their education background and experience,e quickly understand what our clients need and technically brief that to our programming team.” Banderjee said.
Seeing what others miss
“I saw an opportunity,” said Allen Rodriguez, co-founder of One400. “Not a whole lot of people are developing a niche in the legal industry.” Rodriguez decided law school was not for him, but turned his interest in law into expertise on the business side of law firms, eventually working for the Los Angeles Bar Association.
“Looking into the future is against (a lawyer’s) training,” Rodriguez noted, as the profession is rooted in precedent. “It’s a big advantage not having that constraint.” The future did not beckon at LegalZoom, a legal DIY site for people in need of basic legal services, he explained. The firm could not answer client questions because only lawyers can give legal advice.
One400 “helps law firms acquire clients.” Rodriguez explained. The strategy is to use purpose-built software for marketing, wrapped around an online ad campaign. Thus, a client may see useful information, but enters the sales funnel once he seeks legal services related to the topic. For example, the chance to hire a defense attorney who specializes in handling drunken driving cases can appear as a link besides information on where the police are running DUI checkpoints, he explained.
Use inbound marketing to meet a need
Paladin also has to attract clients to the sales funnel, only for financial services. That took an understanding of how the web turned this world upside down. The best salesman used to snare the bulk of clients, but that relied on outbound marketing, with the broker calling on prospective clients, explained Jack Waymire, Paladin’s founder. Now investors seek financial services online, “The best web site with the most exposure wins,” he said. “Inbound (marketing) is where the future is.”
Building that web site can take 60-90 days, as opposed to the single-day template build that only yields a digital brochure, Waymire explained. Paladin relies on Hubspot’s inbound marketing and sales software to build its solution.
Investors seek financial advisors for one of two reasons. Either they are looking for a new advisor after getting burned by the old one, or they are getting close to retirement and seek a safe investment for their IRA.
When you, that prospective client, lands on the web site, “I have less than three minutes to convince you to submit your contact information,” Waymire said. That means providing some enticement, like a free offer or a free e-book that helps provide information. “The brochure-style web site will not generate a lead,” he said.
Paladin has been doing inbound marketing for 14 years, running its own database of vetted financial advisors and seeking clients. It has only recently expanded its business to offer its inbound marketing expertise to financial advisors, who are only now competing against “robot-advisors” offering pre-packaged investment portfolios.
Some niches are bigger than others
Cargo came to its market focus after a period of self-examination, where it treated itself as a client. The firm perceived a segment focus, helping large corporations market to small businesses, explained Dan Gliatta, co-founder and managing director.
While there are many ways to demographically analyze small businesses, they really were one of two personas: artisans and crusaders, Gliatta explained.
Artisans just want to “get better at a skilled craft, “ Gliatta said. “Not every small business owner is an entrepreneur. They just want to change the world, but not in a big way.” This person could be a skilled cabinet maker or the guy running the neighborhood BBQ joint. While the artisan’s craft is his passion, the crusader’s goal is to grow their business.
Gliatta described Cargo as a “B2SB” company. “Because this is all we do, we give it 100 percent attention,” he said. For big corporations, “B2B is Siberia. It’s not as cool or sexy as the B2C stuff.”
Cargo casts a wider net, trying to engage small companies across channels, using predictive analysis to drive leads and conversions, Gliatta said. “You need to get them into the funnel quickly and nurture them by digital means.”
Small companies can act as outlets for big brands, or sell-through the products of a larger brand as a dealer or a value-added reseller. Given that about 400,000 small businesses open shop every year in the U.S., Gliatta views this market as a never-ending stream of new customers.