Q: We’ve sculpted our product in a niche that was a subset of the larger target audience. But it is not a niche product–and our investors agree–it’s aimed at the the middle of the bell curve. We feel impatient with our progress and are considering a significant investment in a traditional PR firm; we hope this will dynamite our whole effort with a big splash.
Most successful products start out in a niche and move to a sequence of larger/adjacent niches. Some examples:
- Facebook started at Harvard and moved to the Ivys before conquering the world.
- Google is rolling out their high bandwidth fiber solution in Kansas City not nationwide.
- Proctor and Gamble launches most new consumer products in a test market to learn more before scaling up.
This is normally because
- your offering will provides more value to a small subset of the total population it may ultimately appeal to.
- there may be to be ecosystem or supporting vendors/applications in place to really be useful
- social proof and word of mouth are easier to establish in a niche and a new product lacks both, which retards its acceptance among pragmatics, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
I would be careful not confuse the demand curve you seem to be promising your investors with the current market you can readily access, and the subset of prospects who are willing to abandon their current solution to embrace yours.
Traditional PR involved actual relationships between the PR agency and journalists, analysts, and other opinion makers. The traditional PR professional would ask a number of tough questions of the client as a proxy for the journalists et al to improve the story before the client told it to anyone else. The PR professional had a reputation to maintain with the writers (who were few because they were associated with an expensive printing press or radio/TV station) and was careful to vet the story for “newsworthiness.”
With the rise of new media and dramatically lower costs of publication/distribution for text, audio, and video these relationships have changed. But it’s still important to cultivate relationships with writers, analysts, and other opinion makers whether you do so directly or with the help of an agency.
One of the better books on the changes that the Internet brought to media and marketing is The Cluetrain Manifesto which is available on-line at http://www.cluetrain.com/book/index.html
Most of the teams we work with are targeting niche markets (at least initially) where it’s more effective to take part in ongoing conversations in a few communities focused on the need, problem, or technology. There are very few true overnight successes and banking on a big bang launch over the steady accumulation of customer case studies and endorsements (both formally in your own messaging and informally through “word of mouth” in communities with a natural interest in your offering) seems shortsighted. At a minimum you should have a Plan B for what you will do if the “launch” fails in third party media–it should not be to go out of business.
If you cannot think of two of three alternatives to a “big bang” launch that spread the same budget and effort over a longer period of time that allows for experimentation and iteration–and therefore more learning–you should probably think harder.
As the Kamikaze pilot instructor said to his class, “I want you to watch carefully because I am only going to do this once.” It’s hard to learn from a big bang launch.
The goal of a marketing interaction isn’t to close the sale, any more than the goal of a first date is to get married. No, the opportunity is to move forward, to earn attention and trust and curiosity and conversation.
Seth Godin in “Free Coffee, Next Exit“