by Josh Law
When I look around at the individuals the Flood Marketing team is made of, it’s obvious that each of us has our “own thing” or a “specialty.” To make the team work best, leadership must make sure that each team member is in a role where they fit best. This comes down to finding what they are good at, and more importantly, what they are passionate about. A phrase that has been on my mind lately is, “scratch your niche.” This phrase comes from a book I am currently reading called Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday.
You’ve all heard the term “scratch your itch.” Now, play along as itch becomes niche. Scratching your niche is all about focusing on what you’re good at and what need you fill. When you scratch an itch, you focus on that spot and take care of it to get rid of the itch. This applies to everyone on the Flood team as people, and as a company in general. Much like positions on a soccer field, there is a way to play those positions effectively. You wouldn’t give the position of goalie to just anyone. To identify a niche in yourself or a team member, it’s contingent on your positioning. Just like the position on a soccer field, your job is to fill the void of a potential problem, should the ball be in your area. You must fill that one space – goalie, midfielder, forward, etc. When you position yourself, your product, or your company, you are inherently leaving some people out and that’s okay. When you find the position you play best, this is your niche, or the itch you need to scratch, and you take care of it.
Maybe you can’t successfully scratch that niche right away, but you know it’s “your thing.” We must evolve to be the best in those areas. Scratching a niche deals with your ability to be both strategical and tactical – in that order. Before you ever start on the tactics, you must lay out a plan and go in with a strategy. Ask yourself, what are the needs for the product I am pushing or the company? Tactically speaking, you must be agile enough to see what’s going well and what’s not going well. Your strategy may have to change in the scratching process from the one you initially laid out in the beginning. So, strategy is first, tactical is second – if you get those mixed up, you end up making mistakes and having to go back to square one. Strategy is incredibly important. We must decide how we can be strategic upfront while understanding points where we need to pivot when we begin to get tactical and put together a proposal or a product.
We talk a lot about product marketing and sales; scratching the right niche is the ability to be successful in each of those silos, a silo in marketing and a silo in sales. All of this has to do with understanding the area where you perform best and understanding the product. How will the market respond to what you are offering? Who is the buyer and how are you going to make the transaction happen? All of those things come into play when you are identifying your niche within your product, your marketing, and your sales. There is a holistic niche you’re trying to hit as well.
Why focus so much on each individual’s niche? How does it help the mission we strive to accomplish with our clients and partners? It comes down to this…
Would we rather have a small, very passionate group of people working on a project or a bunch of people working on it who hardly care?
I’d rather sell my product to 100 people that really care, than have no one buy it and 100,000 people say “that’s kind of neat.” Going back to that soccer field; when you’re developing as a player, you may have the goal to become a midfielder on a professional team, but you may start as a forward. In this process, you may find that you prefer to play a different position, maybe defense. You may feel you have to play that position as well as the competition, but you must identify you niche in order to do so. And scratch it. If midfielder is where you long to be, get there.
In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday shines light on how classic works of art and technology have been teaching us a lesson for decades. Classics like Catcher in the Rye, Shawshank Redemption, and the iPhone. These are all things that sell year after year, even when they’ve been around for a while. Now, obviously the iPhone has been innovated over the years, improved and changed. However, Shawshank Redemption, Catcher in the Rye and classic pieces of art don’t change, yet continue to sell because they go up in value. That is what makes them classics. For example, our Digital Community Manager, Micah, has a thing for Maseratis and other exotic cars. The Maserati sells because it has filled a niche and does so very well for people like Micah, while continuing to rise in value. So, scratching niches and creating a classic is predicated on the fact that we are satisfying some kind of need, or better said, solving some kind of problem.
While we scratch our own niches, we also must scratch the niches of our clients and partners to be successful at achieving their marketing goals. Many businesses don’t identify their niche; they just try to sell something interesting. This may not necessarily be something that’s solving a problem for the consumer. Sometimes we tend to solve interesting things, rather than just the problems that the client sees. If they don’t see the value in the problem we’ve solved, they will not value what we do. People value things when you’re solving their problem. We have to identify what our client’s real needs are and work toward a solution. To solve a problem that affects a large population, will result in success; because many people see the problem, and see that it has been solved. Through a needs assessment at the beginning of the strategical planning, we seek out issues that the client may not even be aware of currently. When we solve a problem that isn’t obvious to the client and solves a problem for them, there lies the reward and the success.
Uncovering a problem and solving it, will mean colossal success and longevity. Simply put, you will be way ahead of the curve. The tricky part is you have to be smart enough to understand that this is a problem that no one else sees as a problem right now. The introduction of the iPhone, an all glass screen with a user interface where you can add buttons and change it – that was something that hadn’t been created and people didn’t know they needed it. They thought they needed buttons and whole row of different functions, like some of the first smartphones. When it was first released in 2007, Apple said that they thought they were five years ahead of the competition. And if you look back, other Android phones really didn’t come on the market to start competing with the iPhone until 2011 and 2012. They were right! However, we can trick ourselves into thinking we are solving a problem, when really, it’s just something interesting to us, and people won’t actually buy it. We must remember that throughout the process, strategies may need to change. A niche itself is denoting or relating to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialized section of the population. Other companies in this space (mobile phones) had to adapt to being niche players.
One of the greatest examples Ryan Holiday points out in Perennial Seller, of a niche well scratched comes to us from the music business.
Imagine you are Rick Rubin, signed on to produce the first major label album for Slayer, then a notoriously heavy but obscure metal band. The natural impulse for many would be to help the band make something more mainstream, more accessible. But Rubin knew that would be a bad choice both artistically and commercially. Instead, he helped them create their heaviest album ever – maybe one of the heaviest albums of all time: Reign in Blood. As he recounted later, “I didn’t want to water down. The idea of watering things down for a mainstream audience, I don’t think it applies. People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you’ve done well. Because you are pushing that boundary.”
Yes, in the short term, this choice almost certainly cost them some radio play. But when Rubin says that the best art divides the audience, he means that it divides the audience between people who don’t like it and people who really like it. Ultimately, it was the polarizing approach that turned Reign in Blood into a metal classic – an underground album that spent eighteen weeks on the charts and has sold well over two million copies to date.
Whether it is trying to find your way in life, or how you best fit into your role with a company, success can only come from finding where you truly belong, what position you’re best in, and playing that position with passion. If you do so, you will begin to see new needs and issues in that area, and solve them as only you can. To start, look for a problem you can solve. Filling a void isn’t the goal, it’s finding your niche and scratching it.