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 while, we’ve been busy giving expert advice to clients on why they absolutely must eat their elephant, and how to go about it.

That elephant of course is niching – favourite buzzword of brand strategists across the land (few last more than 10 minutes in a sales call before uttering the words: “You really need to find your niche”.)

Here’s the lowdown on niching, and our answers to some of the questions we've had around our decision…

‘What’s a 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 surrounding circle more a nice-to-have)

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

‘Why do agencies struggle to niche?’

Elephant-dodging antics are pretty common in our corner of the world. Here are the objections we often hear from agency/consultancy leaders (and which we 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 hard (sales/biz dev), put in the hours on outreach (events, emails, social media) and join the beauty parade (creative pitches; competitive tenders) alongside all the other, similar agencies playing the same game.

A well-executed niche changes the game. Suddenly you aren’t seen as just another ‘supplier’, but as the ‘specialist’. You have the expertise – and by extension, the authority – that comes with doing a specific thing for a specific group of people. And it carries the assumption that you do it well!

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

From commoditized offering to premium pricing
As a rule of thumb, the more generalist the service the more likely you will been seen as a commoditized offering (which means competing primarily on price). Conversely, the more specialist you are the less likely you will be seen as interchangeable with other agencies (which opens the door to charging a premium for your services).

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 can command a higher price?

From outbound to inbound lead generation
Finally, over time a good niche should ease the pressure on outbound activity. 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 clearly articulated niche has the opposite effect. First of all, content marketing becomes much easier (as you finally have a rationale for what to write about). And, 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 without niching?’

And there you have it. The honest, push-back question we 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. 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 niche sniff test. But, and it’s a pretty BIG but…most of 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 faced back in 2023. We chose to niche - figuring (a) we wouldn't get bored (expert organisations are a pretty broad church); (b) we wouldn't miss out on opportunities (most of our new biz already comes from the world of education, leadership development and business consulting); 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 chose to embrace a niche, pinning our colours to the following mast:

  • WHAT – positioning & messaging
  • WHO – for expert organisations
  • HOW – who give a damn

We like to think Liam Neeson would be proud.

Looking for more?

Sign up to our newsletter. Tips, examples, thinking – all focused on B2B brands with purpose.