In a previous article, we talked about the strength of branding in a niche market. For one, products that fall under this category have less competition. The market does not have a lot of alternatives to the product. Another lies in the strength of building a loyal consumer base. The products that fall within this category are meeting very specific desires. The narrow subset of consumers within the market makes it less challenging to build a following and nurture those relationships.
Given the scale of the market, businesses have little pressure to meet soaring expectations. Instead the focus is on honing their efforts towards creating products that meet market demands and exceed them.
Whether a business serves a personal niche or a niche among consumers; the purpose of niche marketing is one and the same. The purpose is to find a small territory in which you can be king. Let’s take a closer look at a specific case. This case is how a product broke from a niche market to the mainstream market. Also we’ll take a look at how your business can adapt to the marketplace.
Why Serve a Niche Market?
It’s important to answer the question of what exactly is the point of serving a niche market? If there’s not a lot of competition doesn’t that also mean that there’s little demand? Not exactly.
It is true that competition is certainly healthy. But the size of the market does not necessarily define the chances of being successful. In fact, it could be the other way around. Niche marketing does not only give startup companies the opportunity to launch successfully. It also gives them a better chance of growing into key players in a larger market. Take companies like Peet’s Coffee, La Croix and LuluLemon Athletica for example, who are serving healthy niches.
A Better Engaged Following
By serving a niche market, you are engaging with your connections at a more personal level. You are acquiring a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. As well as, how they want to receive goods and services. Like facilitating more efficient delivery methods or in-store pick ups.
Having this kind of understanding gives you the ability to nurture these b2b relationships by having a grasp of the products that they are looking for, so that your business can produce products that are versatile and have a distinct quality. This allows companies to focus on meeting the demand of a smaller slice of the market without sacrificing their chances of also being attractive to a larger group of consumers.
Lessons from La Croix
Take the brand La Croix, for example, who, from its early Wisconsin beginnings– yes, that Wisconsin, in the eighties started out as “just another beverage company”. And so it was for the first 30 years of its existence and was practically invisible during that time. Unlike its competitors– San Pelligrino and Perrier who come from Alpine springs and are sourced from the South of France respectively, La Croix is produced by 12 plants all over the country, which is pretty unglamorous as far as the market for fizzy water.
In the nineties, it was only popular among frugal and health-conscious, Midwestern moms, which is more important than you might think. Because it was here that La Croix first found what it was looking for, and that was a devoted following.
National Beverage Corp acquired La Croix in 2002. It was also the year in which they rebranded. Because they had finite advertising resources and because time predated social media, the company was limited to packaging and shelf presence to win over its consumers. During this era, the market for sparkling water had 2 faces. One was the bulk-packaging adopted by generic brands, which can be seen on the shelves of large wholesalers like Costco. On the other, there was the almighty green glass bottles of the European brands like San Pellegrino and Perrier.
Lyle Zimmerman, head of branding and design for Alchemy Brand Group, was in charge of this responsibility. He said in an interview with Bon Appetit in 2017, that his goal was to give La Croix a vibe of “casual sophistication” while still being accessible. They achieved this through rigorous market research. They studied the competition from which they were able to generate several design options, which were tested, reviewed and redesigned. The first few iterations had its days, but haven’t we all? These iterations had serif fonts that were very minimalist. But it was the design least favored by the executives of National Beverage that became popular amongst consumers. What was surprising was not that it was preferred, but how overwhelmingly it was so.
This color-blocking design is the branding we know today. The following year, it won a Gold Global Design Award, immediately solidifying it as a staple in popular culture.
It happened in 2015
The years spanning 2010 onward gave rise to the popularity of social media platforms and influencers and it was these factors that became responsible for giving La Croix more traction amongst a new breed of celebrities. In 2015, it started to become something “little short of religion” among millennials. It was 2015, when the branding kicked into overdrive, people were Tweeting about it, there was more traffic in the hashtags. And it was that year that the sales tripled since 2009.
The Charm of the Devoted Few
While the brand itself is older than most millennials, it aligns its marketing strategy to accommodate them perfectly when it established an online presence on Instagram and created a sense of community within the platform. It encouraged its followers to maximize the use of hashtags for a chance to be featured, also associating themselves with the new healthy lifestyle trend. The product itself has zero of everything and is naturally essenced.
And while some brands outsource influencers and pay them thousands of dollars to spread the word, La Croix chose to go back to the approach that got them started in the first place: they reach out amongst their loyal followers, who may have as little as 300 followers, and randomly selects one of them to win a voucher and a free case of La Croix delivered by mail, which they, in turn, will share on social media platforms, spreading the word even more. This creates a branding voice that feels authentic and fosters a sense of community.
To sum it up “La Croix isn’t everywhere because it was trendy. LaCroix became trendy because it was easy for it to be everywhere.”
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