Why we've niched

And why your generalist brand should too

It’s January 2024, a new day for the agency.

We’ve finally taken our own medicine and gone all in for a rebrand – name, identity, messaging…the works. At least, that’s the headline (“Goodbye ABA, hello said & done”).

But it isn’t the real story.

The truth? We’ve spent the best part of a decade circling the elephant, considering how we might start eating it (and whether we even have the appetite in the first place). All the time, we’ve been busy giving expert advice to clients on why they absolutely must eat the elephant, and how to go about it.

That elephant of course is niching – favourite buzzword of brand strategists across the land (few can last more than 10 minutes before raising an eyebrow and uttering the words: “You really must find your niche”.)

Here’s the lowdown on niching, and our answers to the questions we know you probably have (but might just be too shy to ask)…

‘What’s a brand niche, anyway?’

Put simply, a niche is a deliberate choice of where you will play and how you will win there. It’s the intentional, focused positioning of your brand in the market and mind of your audience.

For B2B brands, it means pinning down one or more areas of specialism:

  • WHAT – your offering specialism (e.g. brand strategy & messaging)
  • WHO – your audience specialism (e.g. mid-sized B2B businesses)
  • HOW – your affinity/association specialism (e.g. the purpose-minded)

Think of it like the crosshairs of a rifle. Your WHO is the vertical line, your WHAT the horizontal line, and your HOW the circle surrounding the two. (With those lines being pretty essential, and the circle more a nice-to-have)

Get it right, and you’ll be right in the sweet spot of what your audience is looking for (“Star Wars themed murder mystery parties for middle-aged men in the Greater London area? Now we're talking!”)

‘Why do marketers struggle to niche?’

Elephant-dodging antics are pretty common in our corner of the world. Here are the common objections we hear from marketing leaders (and which we often told ourselves during our years of circling):

‘We’ll get bored’
As creatives ourselves, we get it. Variety is the spice of life – and surely niching will mean you end up working on the same sort of stuff over and over again, right?

‘We’ll miss out on work’
This is by far the biggest one – the nagging fear that by nailing your colours to one mast, you’ll miss out on all those potential clients standing around the other pole wondering where you’ve gone.

‘We’ll alienate existing clients’
Finally, there’s the worry of alienating – even potentially losing – existing clients who don’t quite fit the niche. Will they think we no longer care about them or understand their world?

‘What persuaded you to niche, regardless?’

Aside from wanting to throw off the cloak of hypocrisy we’d been wearing for all these years, we realised the benefits of niching really outweighed the drawbacks.

Here are the big three things we look forward to enjoying (and which clients who’ve taken our advice already do):

From 'supplier' to 'specialist'
The harsh reality is that most creative/marketing agencies are seen as ‘suppliers’ in the minds of their prospective customers – and treated as such. They have to hustle (biz dev), press the flesh (lots of calls, emails & face time) and join the beauty parade (the creative pitch/competitive tender) alongside a bunch of other, similar agencies all playing the same game.

A well-executed niche shifts that perception. Suddenly you aren’t seen as the ‘supplier’, but as the ‘specialist’. You have the expertise – and by extension, the authority – that comes with the discipline of doing a specific thing for a specific group of people over time (with the assumption being you do it well).

As Liam Neeson would put it (whilst pulling on those black, leather gloves): “I have a very particular set of skills…”

From commoditized to premium pricing
As a rule of thumb, the more generalist the service the more likely you will fall victim to commoditised pricing (as businesses in over-served, mass markets are forced to compete on price). Conversely, the more specialist the service the more likely it is you’ll be able to charge a premium (as businesses in under-served, niche markets can get away with charging more).

Imagine you are the marketing leader of an insurance broker looking to improve conversion on your website. You get two referrals from trusted contacts – one for a full-service digital agency (multiple sectors, broad digital expertise), the other for a conversion optimisation agency (specialising in financial services).

Which one do you think will be commanding a higher price?

From outbound to inbound lead generation
Finally, over time the challenge of lead gen should grow easier with a good niche. The outbound hustle of getting noticed and being remembered is hard work when you’re a generalist – like finding-a-needle-in-a-pile-of-very-similar-looking-needles hard!

A strong, clearly communicated niche has the opposite effect. First of all, content marketing becomes much easier (as you finally have a rationale for what you need to write about). Then, before long, those referrals and introductions start to snowball (as clients/contacts tell others: “These guys are exactly what you’re looking for”).

The up-hill battle of the generalist, or the gathering-speed of the specialist. Which would you prefer?

‘Can we get away with not niching?’

And there you have it. The honest, push-back question we often hear (and definitely grabbed onto ourselves down the years). It usually goes something like this: “We know loads of agencies who haven’t niched and are doing just fine, thank you very much. Do we really need to niche?”

And of course, it’s true. There are numerous creative/marketing agencies across these fair isles (and beyond) whose websites would fail to pass even a basic niching sniff test. But, and it’s a pretty BIG but…here's the thing: those brands are big enough to get away with it.

If your name (and therefore your reputation) precedes you – by all means, stick with the generalist game. Chances are it’s already working, and you're viewed as a trusted brand in the market. If, on the other hand, you are too small (and by extension, unknown) to seriously compete with the big name generalists in your field, it’s time you played a different game.

That was the choice we were faced with in 2023: play the same old generalists game (with all its headaches) or find a new specialist place to play. We chose the latter - figuring that (a) we wouldn't get bored (B2B is broad enough church); (b) we wouldn't miss out on opportunities (our track record in education & not-for-profit means enquiries are unlikely to stop overnight); and (c) our current clients who don't fit the niche would be forgiving (we still love you guys, promise!).

And that’s the real story behind why we became said & done. We've finally found our nice - the WHAT ('experts in positioning and messaging'), for WHO ('B2B brands') with a HOW ('who give a damn').

We like to think Liam Neeson would be proud.

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