Niche markets. Where we are going wrong? And how can we fix it?

It was (and still is) a common mantra, heard from many decision makers in media houses: “I know my readers. I know our clients. We don’t need any statistics.”

Germany's Die Zeit has become the go-to academic resource in the country.
Germany's Die Zeit has become the go-to academic resource in the country.

Editors and commercial directors alone, then, it seems, have had their fingers completely on the pulse of their readership and client base.

Until, that is, the print market started fragmenting and digital became complex. Then came the ability to hoover up consumer data and spit it out on spreadsheets. The blind faith of days of yore, elbowed out by the data-visualisers slicing and dicing their demographic details and key points of contact.

But the problem is that data analysis is all about quantity in, quantity out. If you start by collecting impressive seeming but ultimately illusory numbers, you end up often with impressive seeming but ultimately wrong conclusions … and products very likely nobody wants.

Here’s why: Let’s take two males. Both born in England in 1948. Both married, both divorced, both successfully remarried. Both have grown-up children and an impressive, even award-winning career. Both are wealthy; both choose to holiday in the Alps.

Standard demographic marketing puts them both in the same box and tries to stalk them, for instance, with pop-up ads for greenhouse extensions.

The catch is that one is Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, while the other is Ozzie Osborne, former Black Sabbath front man and celebrated and alleged bat-beheader.

So if we’re in the business of finding passions and obsessions that we can expand, create content for, and sell, then the standard socio-demographic approach clearly falls short. That’s not to say Ozzy and HRH Prince of Wales wouldn’t both reach for the same product, just that their reasons for that choice and how they will use it could be widely different.

It seems that the only way to work with niche markets is to have a much better understanding of interests, lifestyles, values, and experiences of our audience. Without that understanding, the new business models and revenue streams are just the daydreams of spreadsheet wranglers.

If you look around, there are media houses that have decided to go and really find out what their audiences want and deliver it.

Germany’s Die Zeit has always had an intellectual and well-educated following, but it took it a step further by deciding to be the go-to source for academia.

It succeeded. Today, Zeit runs a number of digital and analogue companies with career and placement services, university research, profiling for young students, summer universities, and senior citizen study courses.

Zeit became the special interest hub for education in Germany, and, with that, it is now in a position to fine-tune product offerings. The contact with the audience is the gift that never stops giving. Deeper understanding and enhanced reader trust now means Zeit sells wine, art, and ecological products.

F+W Media has expanded its product offerings to include niche seminars, tutorials, and more.
F+W Media has expanded its product offerings to include niche seminars, tutorials, and more.

In the United States, F+W Media used to be F+W Publications. The name change was not a whim. From traditional magazine publishing, F+W moved into so-called content verticals on special subjects like crafts, creative writing, quilting, hunting, guns, and collectibles. The subjects sprang naturally from the company’s magazines, but it realised these consumers wanted more than glossy pictures and 2,000-word features.

Now it has a wide range of (paid) related products and services such as video tutorials, seminars, shops for equipment and accessories, etc. — all woven into the core subject. Traditional publishing is now only 60% of the company’s revenues.

What F+W really did was go beyond blindly asserting that it “knows” its readers and, instead, work its way into those readers’ lives and passions. It is no accident that one of the companys major KPI is not circulation or unique users. It is contact data — real user names complete with e-mail addresses and personal information.

Market insight is better than blind assertions of market research. Data collection is a step on from the zero data approach of old. But only a genuine understanding of lives and interests will enable media companies to grow revenues.

That means less box-ticking and more empathy. Get it right and special-interest hubs can be created that become virtuous circles of new ideas being generated from ever closer relationships.

Our industry is in a very good position to do this: We have the content, the trust, the relationships, the contacts. We only need to utilise these assets in a fresh way and that requires a change of attitude. It’s not only about reach anymore; it is about engagement, loyalty, and omnipresence.

Multi-platform and multi-media are yesterday’ s men. Tomorrow will be omni-channel and omni-format. We need to be everywhere with our skilfully strategic offerings that engage: mobile, print, desktop, social, messengers, events, video, and e-shops.

If we do it right, we can create sustainable revenues on every channel.

Stick stubbornly to outdated marketing methodology and we will be marketing religious retreats to atheists.