The Niche Marketing Blog

Tools for understanding and reaching your market

The Digital Marketplace “Wild West Days” Are Over

Gone are the days where the individual or smaller company could contact a few manufacturers, or wholesalers, negotiate for a variety of products, and make any reasonable money in digital marketplaces like Amazon (especially Amazon).

Over the past 4 years I have sold extensively in the digital marketplace arenas, with the bulk of that activity on Amazon. Over that time, I have been responsible for generating nearly $3.2 million dollars in sales. What I have seen over that time tells me that it is going to become ever more difficult for the smaller, general merchandise seller to successfully compete in these marketplaces.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, there hes been a huge influx of manufacturers and distributors who now list their items directly on sites like Amazon. When manufacturers go direct, the retailer can’t compete on price.

Second, marketplaces like Amazon have made it apparent that they would rather fulfill orders at their end, rather than have the seller do their own fulfillment. They have set up fulfillment centers in such a way that the independent sellers have a tough time competing against 2-day, 1-day, or in same cases, same day delivery times.

Third, with the influx of sellers mentioned above, there is a lot more downward pressure on pricing, leaving everyone with a race to the bottom, and ever smaller “average order volumes” (AOV).  Of course, if you are big enough to survive on ever slimmer  margins (think <10%), then you will likely survive. If not, then, well, you better have another strategy in hand.

So what does the smaller seller do to, not only compete, but also thrive, in the digital marketplace landscape? Narrow your focus! Forget the idea of selling general merchandise to the masses. Focus instead on finding niches where you can truly compete, and where there is truly a need that you can meet. In other words, get as close as you can to your customers and figure out who they are and what they really want – then provide it to them.

This means a lot more up front work on your part – market, competition and product research to name a few – but, in the end, you’ll stand a much great chance of surviving the ever changing terrain that is the digital marketplace.

I’ll explore some specific strategies for doing just that in upcoming posts.

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Top 10 Mistakes in Conducting Online Market Research

1. Not knowing what you don’t know
Its easy to do online surveys these days. Too easy. It may be so cheap and easy that you do it without understanding the basics and end up with misleading answers that send your business down the wrong path. This is worse than never doing any research in the first place. Spend a little time and get to know what you don’t know about market research. A basic review of the following topics is a great start.


  • Sampling and sampling error
  • Quantitative vs. qualitative research
  • Question bias / question design
  • Response rates / confidence levels
  • Questionnaire coding
  • Why people take surveys (social contract)


Some great books on these subjects are:
Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method” by Don A. Dillman
Asking Questions: A Definitive Guide to Questionnaire Design” by Norman Bradburn, Seymour Sudman, Brian Wansink

2. Not eliminating sampling errors
Now that you know what sampling error is you can understand why it is critical to conducting meaningful market research. Many of the online surveys you see today are full of potential sampling errors. Don’t be one of them. Take the time to develop a good sample and then make sure you get as many of those people as possible to your survey. This is probably the biggest difference between professional market research and your do-it-yourselfers. The pros take the time and money to develop good samples and then make sure that they get good response rates. You can to if you put in the effort.


  • Always use a true random sample
  • Tracking your respondents (PINs)
  • Program the survey to eliminate duplicates and respondents with bad intentions
  • Check the data for oddities (clean the data of illegitimate records)
  • Use incentives (does not have to be monetary, see social contract)

3. Making decisions with inaccurate information
If you never understood any of # 1 and # 2 it is a good bet your survey is useless. Worse than that you may think it is telling you what to do with your important business decisions. Making decisions with inaccurate information is worse than taking a guess.


4. Writing bad questionnaires
You might get everything else right and then go and write a bad questionnaire. Lots of online surveys have at least one bad question. What is a bad question? It’s any of the following:


  • Biased questions
  • Unanswerable questions (impossible to know the answer)
  • Questions with two meanings
  • Hard to understand questions (way to long, strange use of words)
  • Dumb questions (asking about something the researcher should already know, or has already asked)

5. Programming a hard to take survey
After you have spent all that time creating a good sample and writing good questions don’t ruin it by programming a hard to use survey. One of my top gripes is forcing respondents to complete every answer. Too much of this is going to get you either a contrived answer or the respondent leaving. Neither is good.



  • Don’t force non-critical questions
  • Don’t have non-standard buttons
  • Don’t use non-standard technologies (java applets, etc.)

6. Going cheap
Both the good and bad thing about online market research is that it can be much less expensive than in the past. The bad of this is that it is just too easy to conduct flawed market research. Many of the above items cost time and money (sampling, questionnaire design, etc.) Spend the time and money to do it right. Even better hire a quality market research firm to do it for you. Either way you will save money in the long run by conducting quality market research.


7. Confusing social networking with quantitative market research
Talking with lots of people (social networking) might gain you valuable qualitative information but it is not quantitative market research. The difference is qualitative information rarely represents all of your audience and gives you individual opinions and ideas. Quantitative research on the other hand is designed to represent all of your audience and gives you answers that you can know reflects all of your customers. Don’t confuse the two. Social networking can be useful but understand its limitations.

8. Being overly “cute” with the survey tool
Your market research is supposed to gather meaningful information about your target audience. It is not supposed to impress them with all the high technology you can master. Keep your survey technology as simple as possible to reduce excluding respondents that are not up to speed with the latest and greatest.


  • Keep Flash and JavaScript to a minimum (use them but not in critical areas, always provide alternatives.)
  • Use tried and true web technologies

9. Relying on only one source of information
Market research is a snapshot of opinions at a certain time. If your research results in wildly different answers than you were anticipating it is wise to confirm these conclusions with more data.



  • Conduct another survey
  • Look for corroborating data

10. Ignoring your market research
If you go to all the trouble to conduct a good study then have a plan to do something with that information. Too many organizations will conduct market research for one reason or another and when they get information back just sit on it. Don’t be the one who ends up saying “Wow, if we had just done what our market research told us we wouldn’t be in this bad position”. Before you conduct any online research have a plan as to what you will do with it.


Zachary Wilson is Vice President and Web Manager of Wilson Research Group (a small Silicon Valley market research firm) and has been conducting online surveys for over 10 years. This article targets those who are not market research professionals but want to conduct professional surveys.

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Crowd Funding World Summit 2013 Underway


Internet! (Photo credit: LarsZi)

The 2013 Crowd Funding World Summit is underway with more than 65 experts and members of Congress speaking on the topic.

According to Wikipedia, Crowdfunding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, crowd equity, crowd-sourced fundraising) is the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations (source: )

These funding avenues are gaining both traction and attention; sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are recent examples.

The 2013 Crowd Funding World Summit is featuring speakers who will be speaking on the following topics:

  • Is Crowdfunding right for you?
  • Case studies of Crwodfunding success
  • When to use rewards vs. equity in your offerings
  • How will Crowdfunding impact social media?

Stop by the Crowd Funding World Summit web site to see a list of speakers, find speaker schedules, learn about the history of crowdfunding, and register to listen to the speakers for free.

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The Challenge 2013

The ChallengeThe wait is over! The Challenge (formerly known as “The 30-day Challenge) begins tomorrow, September 1, 2013.

Today is the second of a two-day pre-season, with the complete roll-out starting up tomorrow. Ed Dale and his group have completely revamped the training this year and they have added some new training modules to help you make your first dollar online by the end of the 30-day training.

I have put together a short video blog about The Challenge, and you can view the video here: The Challenge 2013.

For those that haven’t heard of The Challenge before, it is a free 30-day, 30-minute per day, training course that is designed to help you take your business idea and get it on-line and making some money – all within 30 days.

If you are serious about developing your niche business, and want to become a better niche marketer, then you should stop what you are doing right now and sign-up for this year’s Challenge. You’ll be glad you did.

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Google’s Keyword Planner Tool

Image via CrunchBase

By Scott Spooner

If you are a niche marketer, then, no doubt, one of the “must have” tools in your toolkit is the Google Keyword Tool. This tool is one of the bets fre resources on the Internet for researching keywords, from generating relevant keywords lists, to identifying long-tail keywords, and from assessing the level of compeition for a given keyword phrase, to budgeting the “cost-per-click” estimates for running an AdWords account.

This tool is a tried and true favorite of mine, as well as a “go-to” favorite for many of my clients. Google, however, has other ideas about the future of this tool. In fact, in the near future Google will be removing the keyword tool form its lineup. Not to worry, though. Google is planning on replacing their venerable keyword tool with a much expanded Keyword Planner Tool.

The nw Keyword Planner Tool is still in beta, but can be accessed via the Google AdWords link. While still free, you will have to have a Google account to access the tool once it goes live.

I have put together and posted on YouTube a short, 4-minute, video which provides an overview of the new keyword planner tool. You can watch the video here: Google Keyword Planner Tool.

Let me know what you think about this new keyword tool. Also, send me a note if you want a more in-depth set of videos explaining how to use this new tool.

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Strategic Marketing Planning Made Simple – The 4P Business Thinking System


Business (Photo credits:

[Editor’s note: Niche marketers – especially those who own or mange smaller businesses – tend to overlook the value of strategic and market planning. Part of the reason is lack of resources (e.g. time, personnel, etc.) and part of the reason is that the process can become overly complex.

The following article describes a simplified methodology for developing a strategic plan for the smaller niche business. Let me know what you think. Have you ever developed a strategic or marketing  plan for your business? If so, how did the process work out for you?  ~Scott]


By Gogo Erekosima

An effective strategic marketing planning framework is a must-have element for any small business that wants to become a big business “when it grows up”. Unfortunately, many small business owners have as much interest in strategic marketing planning as a turkey has for thanksgiving. They avoid it.

Part of the reason why they avoid this very important process is because consultants and MBAs have conspired to make it a topic that only egg heads could love.

In working with my consulting clients, I have developed a simple framework for helping the every day business owner articulate a plan for strategic engagement with the marketplace. I call it the 4P Business Thinking framework.

The 4P Business Thinking Framework is a robust system for matching your solution to the needs of a marketplace, and then communicating that match in a way that results in sales and profits. Here is a brief overview of the 4Ps of the 4P framework.

1. People (or Profile)

For you or your business to exploit a market opportunity or overcome an industry challenge, you must have a very clear definition of the target customer. In the B2B (business-to-business) space that customer may be an organization, but the approach must still be crafted with individual decision makers in mind. In a B2C (business-to-consumer) context, you may have to define the demographic, psychographic or geographic profiles of your target prospects.

2. Problem

You must clearly define the problem your marketplace is desperate to solve for which you have an answer. In business, many ships have crashed on the rocks of market indifference because a company manufactured a solution for which the market had no problem. The time proven approach to value innovation in business is to deeply examine the clearly identified challenges of the customer.

3. Process (or Product)

What is your particular way of solving the market’s challenge that differentiates you from every other competitor?

This 3rd P in the framework is where you have a chance to stand out from the crowd of competitors for solving the problem of your chosen target market. Your process or product must be meaningfully different.

4. Passion (or Personality) and Proof

This last element is often flubbed badly by small businesses who blindly emulate the sanitized and often colorless communications of much larger firms. One of the embedded advantages a small business has is the ability to be “personal” and to communicate passion to the marketplace.

One large company that successfully communicates passion and personality in marketing is Southwest airlines. As a result of their commitment to personality in business, they continue to be rewarded with some of the highest customer approval ratings in the domestic airline industry.

If you manage a manufacturer of colorless widgets, or a buttoned-down professional service firm, you cannot afford to pass up the power of personality, passion and social proof in your marketing.

Some simple things you can do include digging through early stories of your company for narratives that may resonate, or capturing the experiences of your staff, clients and managers for your marketing campaigns.


Whether you’re planning for a new product or service, approaching a new target market or writing a direct mail sales letter, the 4P framework can be used to create tremendous value in your marketing planning process.

Gogo Erekosima, The Small Business Digital Coach is the CEO and Lead strategist at Idea Age Consulting – a Denver Business Consulting firm that promises to grow your small business by 24% or more in 24 weeks or less using their customized Business Growth Action MAPS.

Sign up today for a Marketing SWOT Analysis. This consulting module uncovers strategic marketing and business growth opportunities. This Consulting Package is valued at over $1500 dollars.

Article Source: Strategic Marketing Planning Made Simple – The 4P Business Thinking System


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Marketing Planning – Don’t Do SWOT

[Editor’s note: In both strategic, and market, planning processes, I have used the SWOT analysis on several occasions, and with much success. However, the author of this article does bring up several valid points regarding the shortcomings, and potential hazards, of the SWOT process. I have found that, the smaller the business, the less effective SWOT becomes. What are your thoughts? Have you ever used a SWOT analysis in your marketing (or niche marketing) planning? Feel free to share your thoughts here. ~Scott]

Swot analysis

Swot analysis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is a popular framework for developing a marketing strategy. A Google search for “SWOT” and “planning” turned up almost 93,000 hits (August 2004), most all of which laud the use of SWOT. Some students have said that it is the most important thing they learned at the Wharton School.

Although SWOT is promoted as a useful technique in numerous marketing texts, it is not universally praised: One expert said that he preferred to think of SWOT as a “Significant Waste of Time.”

The problem with SWOT is more serious than the fact that it wastes time. Because it mixes idea generation with evaluation, it is likely to reduce the range of strategies that are considered. In addition, people who use SWOT might conclude that they have done an adequate job of planning and ignore such sensible things as defining the firm’s objectives or calculating ROI for alternate strategies. I have observed this when business school students use SWOT on cases.

What does the evidence say? Perhaps the most notable indication is that I have been unable to find any evidence to support the use of SWOT.

Two studies have examined SWOT. Menon et al. (1999) asked 212 managers from Fortune 1000 companies about recent marketing strategies implemented in their firms. The findings showed that SWOT harmed performance. When Hill and Westbrook (1997) examined the use of SWOT by 20 companies in the UK in 1993-94, they concluded that the process was so flawed that it was time for a “product recall.”

One advocate of SWOT asked: if not SWOT, then what? Borrowing from corporate strategic planning literature, a better option for planners is to follow a formal written process to:


  1. Set objectives
  2. Generate alternative strategies
  3. Evaluate alternative strategies
  4. Monitor results
  5. Gain commitment among the stakeholders during each step of this process.


I describe this 5-step procedure in Armstrong (1982). Evidence on the value of this planning process, obtained from 28 validation studies (summarized in Armstrong 1990), showed that it led to better corporate performance:


  • 20 studies found higher performance with formal planning
  • 5 found no difference
  • 3 found formal planning to be detrimental


This support was obtained even though the formal planning in the studies typically used only some of the steps. Furthermore, the steps were often poorly implemented and the conditions were not always ideal for formal planning.

Given the evidence, SWOT is not justified under any circumstances. Instead, use the comprehensive 5-step planning procedure.


Armstrong, J. S. (1982) “The Value of Formal Planning for Strategic Decisions,” Strategic Management Journal, 3, 197-211.

Armstrong, J. S. (1990), “Review of Corporate Strategic Planning,” Journal of Marketing, 54, 114-119.

Hill, T. & R. Westbrook (1997), “SWOT Analysis: It’s Time for a Product Recall,” Long Range Planning, 30, No. 1, 46-52.

Menon, A. et al. (1999), “Antecedents and Consequences of Marketing Strategy Making,” Journal of Marketing, 63, 18-40.

The two papers (cited in this article) written by me can be found in full-text at


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The Challenge 2013

The Challenge 2013. Started 8 years ago, “The Challenge” steps you through a self-guided, 30-day course that is geared towards you making your fist dollar on-line. Invaluable information is found in this program. I follow along every year – and this year will be no exception.

All new. Still free. Coming August 1st.

Learn more here: and here

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R.I.P. Google Reader

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...

Google Reader going away on July 1st, 2013

Niche marketers rely on a steady stream of new, niche-oriented content to fill their web sites, blogs and social media posts. For most business owners, it is a challenge to create that content, with many opting to curate existing content rather than creating from scratch.

One of the best ways to curate that content was through a wonderful, free service that has been offered by Google, called Google Reader.  With Google Reader you could selected specific RSS feeds from around the Internet and have them neatly, and cleanly, delivered to your email account on a daily basis.

Sadly, the folks over at Google have decided that  Google Reader is going away.  As of July 1st, 2013, Google Reader will be history.  I’m not a happy camper about this announcement. Google Reader has been a workhorse for me over the years and I will sorely miss it’s ease of use and clean, simple format.

Fortunately, there are some alternatives to Google Reader. Specifically, there is Newsblur, NetVibes, and Feedly. I have not explored either Newsblur, or NetVIbes, but have begun using Feedly and, I must admit, I am starting to get used to it.

So, while I will miss Google Reader, I am glad to see that there are some alternatives on the Internet which will performs many of the same functions. You’ve been a good friend, Reader. May you rest in peace.

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Social Media – Not For All Niche Businesses

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Social Media and Niche Businesses

By Scott Spooner

Social Media. The promise as that all businesses coan take advantage and profit from a niche marketing strategy that includes social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like. While this may be true in theory, the reality is that many smaller businesses – and especially those in niche markets – aren’t ready for a social media strategy, and would be wasting both time and money by pursuing one.

Strong words? Let me explain.

I have spoken with dozens of small business owners who want to establish a presence in social media. They see the vast number of people posting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, and following each other on LinkedIn. With such an enorous prospect pool, why shouldn’t they jump in? Why indeed! In short, they have nothing to talk about.

Even now most business owners know little about social media. They may be aware that their children, or grandchildren, post, follow, or tweet, but they have little or no direct experience with either the platforms or the process. They focus on the “media” side of the term, and completely ignore the “social” side. So they find someone to create a Facebook page for them, start posting sales messages, then don’t understand why no one is stopping by that page and liking them. Worse yet, they don’t grasp why the Facebook page, or Twitter account, isn’t generating web traffic to their home page or foot traffic to their store.

The truth of the matter is that there is no reason for the traffic to flow.

Social media is about creating conversations and developing a community. It isn’t about, “hey, come over here and buy this”.  When I am called in to remedy the situation, one of the first questions I ask is about the source of the content that they are posting up. Invariably, it is always tied to the latest product or service promotion. And that’s where the online conversation stops.

To be successful with social media, a busienss owner needs to think in terms of community; i.e. what is the business doing in the local community? Tell me about the community events you sponsor, or the charities you support. Tell me about the last Chamber mixer you atteneded, or the local Little League team you cheer. Give me a reason to become interested in your company and then I will follow you. Sales will follow from there.

Can sales messages be added from time to time? Of course. Just remember that the bigger part of social media is the “social” side. You wouldn’t attend a cocktail party and spend all of your time meeting people to hand out business cards would you? So don’t do it on the social media sites. Let people get to know your business and the role it plays in your community. That’s your story. That’s your lead in. That’s how you get people to listen to you and follow you.

And that’s when the traffic starts to flow and sales start to increase.

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