Monday, 21 January 2008

Marketing to a niche market

In my other business we make specialist livery and graphics kits for emergency vehicles.

But we have an interesting set of problems to surmount.

We are one of only a handful such specialist companies in the country, and largely, the UK leads the world due to our research and development into acheiving high visibility on our roads. However, our specialism makes for an interesting marketing case:

> There are 3 manufacturers of suitable materials for this work, and we all buy from the same sources at very similar prices.
> There are guidelines as to the designs and layout of the livery we make and we all have to follow them (within reason)
> There is only one method (currently) of manufacture to cut and seal the materials we use - we all use that technology
> There are a finite number of users in the UK in the emergency services, and we all know who those contacts are already

Therefore, the only obvious ways we can differentiate from our competitors is on service or price. Trouble is, clients EXPECT good service and support, or change suppliers, and if you compete on price, well, anyone can cut their prices, cant they - it doesnt actually offer a better product, does it!?

We were a late entrant to the market (and my background gave us none of the advantages or hindrences of legacy information or knowledge) and from day one I saw that service was a key route, but also that our competitors were all parts of bigger organisations, so we were able to offer one unique point - Specialism. I also strove to set up a brand that conveyed all our key attributes consistently and clearly. We have always been free with our technical and legal knowledge; my belief is that if you empower people to understand your offering, they will lean more naturally toward you when they come to purchase - and it's worked so far, through our regular newsletters, thorough website and technical bulletins - we do have a great name for helpful, knowledgable staff and good quality service.

However, thats all great, and we have grown to a point where we are a pain to the other competitors, but we want to gain more market share of the core, relatively static, emergency service business.

The only way I can see to differentiate is to dip back into the bag that got us here in the first place and INNOVATE. We've had some fantastic open days recently that have attained great feedback and we'll be acting on some of that.

The conclusion I have come to this week is to really engage again with our target market and open up opportunities for them to share and discuss the issues they face, so that we can use the feedback to hone our offering. Not just online, though that would be innovative(!), but face to face, over the phone and at exhibitions etc. A truly rounded "Customer First" approach that I think will reveal completely different issues and requirements than just price... we'll see!

If you have any suggestions for how I might approach this, I'd welcome them - it all helps in the mix!


David said...

Sounds almost like a regulated utility to me. Your customers want to drive down the price except that they complain when the service and quality features also wear away. What's in the matrix? Same product, new market; same market, new product? Either way, innovation is called for and I know no better man for the job that Super-Bok!

nickbroom said...

Hmm - like the water / gas utilities? Do you have any suggestions then, or other industries where a few companies fight in the same way, and how have they managed to win?