#TBT: The Future Is a Niche Market

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: The Future Is a Niche Market. [This article was originally published in 2009.]

We talk all the time about the future being a niche market, and in a past Selling Out post I wrote that Stewart Copeland of The Police said this:

“There is no otherwise. Unless you are selected by the titans of industry to be the next iPod icon like U2 or something, you’ve got to find a niche.

Niches are all there are except for the huge, huge, huge mega-names.”

Cirque du Soleil is another example of a niche.

Seth Godin put a little piece up on his enjoyable blog about being the best in the world. How can you simultaneously develop a niche AND be the best in the world? “Make the world smaller,” Seth says. He tells the brief story of the man who invented artisan pizza, started a movement around it, and, of course, was the best in the world at artisan pizza.

And he’s absolutely right. The era of mass is over. Whether it’s mass production or mass audience, the same thing is true.

So the bad news is that not everyone’s going to love you. To put it a different way, if you do a niche right, the most important people for you will really, really like you, and most of the other people won’t know much about you.

That’s not so bad, really. It’s actually quite cool because it also means that instead of a few popular things that have been compromised so that everyone sorta likes them, there’s an ecosystem of more unusual and interesting things that appeal to those who really have a jones for what you do.

The first objection I hear to this kind of thinking is that it means being small. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The NFL is a niche product.

Seriously, pro football’s not for everyone. It’s a violent, complicated, tribal game. Some people are appalled by it or bored to tears by it. A lot of us love it and think of any other spectator sport as a pale substitute and feel that life begins anew somehow in fall when the season starts.

Would that niche be big enough for you?

To use another example, Cirque du Soleil is another example of a niche. They put on a spectacular, one-of-a-kind show that a lot of people don’t just enjoy, but revere. On the other hand, a lot of people (particularly men) would rather poke themselves with a fork for two hours than go to a Cirque show. It’s a niche.

It’s a wonderful, profitable, beautiful niche.

So take Seth’s advice: Think small. Not in your ambitions, but in envisioning the world you want to dominate. You can grow that world later. He puts it differently in his post:

“It’s entirely possible that you will choose a niche that’s too small. It’s much more likely you’ll shoot for something too big and become overwhelmed. When in doubt, overwhelm a small niche.”

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