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How To Build A Fan Base From Niche Markets - Part 2 of 3
The goal of this series is to give indie artists some practical strategies to develop an effective niche-marketing plan for their music
By Anne Freeman, The Aspiring Songwriter®
(more articles from this author)
2011-01-13
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Welcome back to the "How to Build a Fan Base from Niche Markets" series of articles. The goal of this series is to give indie artists some practical strategies to develop an effective niche-marketing plan for their music. In the previous article, we discussed how artists typically developed their fan base - or not. We also learned about marketing, and looked at what I called "Linear Progressions" that show the steps that indie artists typically take when attempting to build a fan base. If you have not read Part 1 of this series, you can do so by clicking on the following link:

We ended Part 1 with the following linear progression based upon the definition of marketing found in Part 1:

Linear Progression: Building Your Fan Base 301 (Marketing)
(1) Identify a potential audience for your music _(2) Design a marketing strategy to develop audience interest in your music _(3) Build a relationship with that audience _(4) Implement strategies that create value for that audience and to turn them into sales _(5) Make your music available to those fans in every possible way _(6)Implement strategies to keep those fans and expand your fan base

The importance of this linear progression is that you, the artist, finally takes on the responsibility of doing the work of marketing yourself, rather than taking a passive role and dumping all of the work of connecting to you and your music onto potential. So, class, are we ready to continue onto Building Your Fan Base 401 (Niche Marketing)?

How about a show of hands? Who out there wants to move forward to Building Your Fan Base 401 with all of their heart and all of their soul? Reach that hand high! Ok, that appears to be about 80 percent of you, maybe a little more. Oops. Guess what? You don't get to move forward to 401. Why, you cry? After all, you want this so bad!! Because you're still wanting and needed and desiring - all of which are passive emotions. Passive emotions won't get you anywhere. What I want to know is who in this class is already working on his or her marketing plan? About 20 percent of you raised your hands. You get to move up to 401.

In 401, I will walk you through the process of identifying a niche market, and then I will present strategies for working that niche market with the goal of developing a fan base out of members in that market. Remember, the purpose of niche marketing is to find an organized group of people with whom you share a common interest, passion or lifestyle that you can turn into an audience for your music.

I. Identifying a Niche Market

I enjoy sailing, and as such, I am pretty interested in the weather. As you can imagine, weather is critical to sailing. Cloud formations and how they predict weather is of particular interest because I sail on a lake that is rimmed with hills, and you can't see approaching storms until they are practically on you. Predicting sailing conditions when I'm on the water by understanding cloud formations is an area of interest, and therefore is a place to look for a potential niche market.

People interested in weather, for whatever reason, would be a potential niche market for me, and that's what I'm going to explore for this article. There are many ways to find a niche market and this is only one way, but let's see if it has potential. We'll walk through the steps of finding a niche market related to weather and plan how we can participate in that niche market in a way that will help us to develop a fan based from members of that niche market. Here goes:

Step One: Get Organized
Our first objective is to research our potential niche market. Some of you may already have a potential niche market in mind; however, it doesn't hurt to do additional research into that market to find more resources. In order to keep track of our research, I created an Excel sheet where we will document that research. I created four categories of research:
(a) Organizations that can be potential fans in the present
(b) Organizations that can be potential markets in the future
(c) Companies, products, and resources that may be useful for marketing to in the future
(d) Other organizations, companies, products, resources and ideas requiring further research

In database (a), we'll place organizations, resources, and other information we find that could be a potential entrance into the niche market. For example, we might find an organization of amateur weather geeks that we can join.

In database (b), we'll place organizations and resources that may not be appropriate right now as we're just starting out, but may be useful down the line; for example, organizations representing weather professionals.

In database (c), we'll place products, companies and other resources that are not something we would join, but may be useful later on for marketing campaigns. We don't know what they might be at this time.

In database (d), we'll place anything we find that looks interesting, but would require further research, such as weather professional conferences.

Creating a database of your research will provide you will a wealth of resources to create and implement your niche marketing plan, and will help you access your research quickly at a later date.

Step 2: Do the Research
We began our research with a simple web search using the term "weather," which pulled up a variety of weather-themed websites. One site was the Weather Underground, where we found something interesting: under the Local Weather tab, we found a Weather Station link, which led us to a web page about "personal weather stations." It said, "The Personal Weather Station (PWS) project allows anyone to purchase a low cost automated weather station and contribute the conditions to our website. We have thousands of stations in our world-wide network and the project is still growing!"

When we first saw the term personal weather stations, we thought they meant that amateur weather geeks could have our own weather broadcasting station, such as a website with streaming local radio broadcasts. But to our surprise, it referred to actual weather data collecting stations that measure temperature, precipitation, barometer, etc. Anyone who purchases a personal weather station to assess local weather conditions in detail is seriously into weather; they are true amateur weather geeks. These are the folks we want to find, so we reviewed the webpage carefully.

We found lists of personal weather station hardware, software, wiki help sites, and so forth. Importantly, there was also a link to all existing personal weather stations worldwide that are linked to the Weather Underground's personal weather station network. Access to weather geeks! We selected the USA and then our states, and voila! I found that over two hundred personal weather stations are operating in my state alone. We included the personal weather information page into section (a) of my database. The weather station people are a potential niche market. We also added this link to (c) for products and resources because of its links to personal weather station suppliers and services.

Next, we searched for weather-related professional organizations. Professional organizations and associations are always a good source for finding not only business information, but people. We found the American Association of State Climatologists, which is a professional scientific organization, composed of official state climatologists. They hold annual meetings around the country and offer publications. We placed this group goes into (b), for organizations and resources that may be useful down the line. Why? Because these are weather professionals, mostly scientists, and we would not be eligible to join the organization. However, they may be a potential resource for future marketing campaigns once our niche-marketing plan is full swing.

In the same search, we found the National Climate Data Center as well as a group of federal weather-related agencies. We browsed the careers sections of these websites to find out what kind of jobs there are at the agencies. People who work at local, state and national weather-related agencies are another potential audience. This resource went into (d) as something not immediately useful, but might be sometime in the future.

In the same search, we discovered a website for a personal weather station owner that included an article about the history of the barometer. The site also advertised what appeared to be a big event for personal weather station people, an upcoming guest lecture, meeting minutes, workshops, and other links. Links are a researcher's gold mine, as they can lead us to other, related groups of people in a niche market. This personal weather station owner just happens to be in driving distance from where I live, so his website goes to the top of my list in (a) as a group to investigate. How about yours?

We also found websites on weather and herb gardens, weather and fishing, weather and Harleys, controversial umbrella designs, etc. Then there was the Weather Club, The Severe Weather Club, The Weather Safety Club, and on and on, all potential audiences. All of these websites will be included in our research database.

Step 3: Determine if the Niche Market will Create Value for You
Prior to creating a niche market strategy, it is important to refer back to the definition of marketing. Pay particular notice to the third sentence in the first paragraph:

"Marketing is the process by which companies create customer interest in goods or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments. It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.

"Marketing is used to identify the customer, to satisfy the customer, and to keep the customer. With the customer as the focus of its activities, it can be concluded that marketing management is one of the major components of business management."

I would be remiss if we didn't take a moment to consider that your choice for a niche market should create value for you. You will be spending precious time and effort on this market, and you should have fun with it or it should be meaningful to your life (or both.

Effective niche marketing is not intended to be a jaded exercise in which you go through the motions just to generate music sales. If that is the case, your audience will tune into that soon enough, and you will lose them! Additionally, this is your life, your music, and you should enjoy the activities you'll be engaging in and people that you are seeking to turn into fans.

For example, I recently saw a TV show about a major label Country Songwriter/Artist who struggled with her sexuality throughout her life and career. After a deep personal and business conflicts, she decided to open up about her sexuality and she has written a book and a song about her struggles. She also created a non-profit orgranization to support young people who are experiencing similar struggles.

This artist has found a niche market that is intensly personal to her, and from which she will undoubtably garner many fans who might never have found her or her music before. She'll continue to have country music fans, but she also now has lifestyle fans based upon her recent efforts, some of whom will discover her country music and become music fans, as well.

Your niche market doesn't have to be based upon something as deeply personal. I once read of a musician who loved massages, but didn't love the music being played during his sessions. He began writing and recording massage music, and now sells it nataionwide at massage and healing arts conventions.

Your niche market can be built around a favorite hobby, sport, art, volunteering, and so forth. It can be spiritual. What ever it is, it should enhance your life. There are a range of reasons and motivations to become a member of a niche market, and you'll want one that will add value to YOUR life. Don't ignore you in this process!

Step 4: Identify Your Point if Entrance into a Niche Market
Our next step is to identify the point of entrance into a niche market. For this example, we've selected people who are interested in weather. Now we must identify the point of entrance into a niche market. Resist the shotgun approach; it rarely works and it is the antithesis to the point of niche marketing, which is a finely honed focus to maximize your efforts. Focus is the point of niche marketing, and you want to focus on at least one sector of the niche market that is the most practical and accessible to you.

Practicality dictates that our focus should be on non-professional but enthusiastic weather amateurs. Weather professionals will want to interact with other weather professionals. Also, we want to select a group that we can easily access, preferably in person. Going back to our research results in database (a), I'm selecting the personal weather station group that meets within a reasonable driving distance from my home and also hosts a website. That will become the point of entrance into our example niche market.

As a reminder, this group is made of dedicated weather amateurs who own personal weather stations, report their data to professional weather sources, and are keen on participating in live and web-based activities with like-minded people, i.e., a solid point of entrance.

Step 5: Enter Your Niche Market
Now that we've identified a niche market and a practical entry point into that market, our next objective will be to enter the market. Prior to doing that, we'll research our group. We'lll read up on and learn all we can about our niche market prior to joining. This research will impress members of the group that we've taken the time to read up on them, and will save us precious time in learning how our club operates.

Now that we've joined our niche market group, what is next? Investing some of our time. Selling comes later. Joining does NOT mean bringing our CDs to the first, second or third meeting, and trying to hawk them to the members. Wrong, wrong, and more wrong. That is NOT niche marketing. That is using people. People are not stupid and they don't like feeling used.

This is the point where many artists fail at niche marketing: they seriously jump the gun when hawking their music in their enthusiasm to find fans. This behavior will turn off our potential fans quicker lighting strikes, and is to be avoided. (I'm getting into this weather geek thing…)

Step 6: Build Strong Customer Relationships by Establish Yourself In Your Niche Market
Our job at this point is to become a valued member of our niche market. Through our membership activities, we will seek to build strong customer relationships (see the definition of marketing, above). Creating customer relationships is THE big blank space in most indie artists' marketing plans, if you even have a plan. Why? I believe there are two reasons:
(1) Because creating and performing music is so intensely personal, so tied to the ego, that it takes a conscious, willful act to step outside of ourselves and our desire that people love our music and us, and put the needs and interests of potential customers first, and
(2) Some artists are just not willing to put in the time and effort to build customer relationships (back to that old making the fans to all the work thing). They still believe that their music will speak for them…

What kinds of activities will help us to establish ourselves and develop customer relationships? Participate in the club or group activities. Do the things that members do. There is no getting around the fact that we must invest some time in our niche market as a core strategy in developing strong customer relationships. Those relationships are what we'll build upon to create a future fan base. We must decide how much time and effort we are able and willing to contribute to our niche market. What ever we decide, we must be prepared to follow-through and do it.

Step 7: Creating Strong Customer Relationships

Up until this point, we've done research on potential niche markets, assessed our interest in that market, identified an entrance point into that market, and taken the plunge by joining an organization, club, or other entity. We've been working on developing strong customer relationships through our niche market activities. Now comes some of the work of creating customer relationships.

* Participate Regularly: We read up on the personal weather station club (club) on their website, and we joined. We attend all of the meetings and activities that we can. We become a dependable club regular, and get to know the club officers and other regular members. We engaged in the work of creating strong customer relationships.

* Volunteer Frequently: After attending some meetings and getting to know the lay of the land, we ask the president if there are any needs in the club. For instance, are there projects that need assistance? Are there any committees needing help? Based upon my past work experiences, I could volunteer to work on their upcoming conference, write articles for their newsletter and website, and help with club marketing, etc. What could you do? Look into all aspects of your life. If you don't have experience in anything, volunteer anyway. Human nature being what it is, a small number of people usually carry the bulk of the load of work. They will train you if you volunteer. We continue to build strong customer relationships.

* Become Known: Once we have proven ourselves through one or more volunteer projects, we've placed ourselves into a position of being a valued member of the club. We've interacted with many of the members, and our names are known to many of the members through attendance at the meeting and volunteer activities. What is the result of these efforts? We've created good customer relationships within our niche market, that important step towards creating fans. We are now ready for the next step in my strategy: Creating Customer Value (no, we're not going to hawk our CDs, yet).

Step 8: Creating Customer Value Through Songwriting and Performing
We've invested enough time and effort to become a known and dependable member of the club. In other words, we've created strong customer relationships in our niche market. It's time now to take the next step in our strategy, which is to create customer value using our songwriting and performing skills.

Note that I didn't say create customer value by selling our songs. This isn't about us - yet. We're still in the customer development stage. But our plan is to use our songwriting skills in a way that will help the members better enjoy their weather interest. How can we do that?

Write Music for Your Niche Market: We can use our carefully-honed songwriting skills to create customer value for our niche market. We're going to use songwriting to help our customers better enjoy their niche market experience. Huh? You ask?

What helps members to rally round the flag? A theme song. We're going to craft a theme song for our weather club. We've spent some time in club activities. We now know who the players are, their slang and terminology, and importantly, the major topics of their conversations. We have all of the information we need to craft a theme song that will reflect the membership. And that is what a theme song is all about.

I suggest that we craft several versions of the song. Once we've demoed a few strong versions, we'll approach the club leadership and announce the creation of a theme song for the club, along with some variations. If they didn't know that you were a songwriter already just through normal conversations, they will know now. Our plan is to give the club leadership CDs of the songs for review, and make a few suggestions:

* They can post all of the versions on the website and have members vote for their favorite version using a free and simple online survey instrument like SurveyMonkey. This engages the membership and makes the leadership look good.
* Once the winning version is selected, we can offer the song for free to post on the club's website.
* We can offer the song free to club members, but request that a link to download the song be posted that will bring members to our own website. Or, if that is not palpable to the leadership, request that our information is included on the website with a link (it doesn't have to be live) on the club's website.
* We can offer to write a little article about how we came up with the song idea to be published on the website blog and/or e-newsletter (and to be published on our websites, too).
* We can offer to perform the winning theme song at the next meeting or holiday party, or other important club event.
* We can invite another club members to submit their favorite weather photos to be selected for the cover of the theme song's CD (which will be populated with other songs that we're going to write.
* And on and on. You fill in some ideas.

Midterm Quiz
Let's pause here and review the definition of marketing and see how our marketing strategy above sizes up:

"[Marketing] is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves."

First, we've enjoyed our investment in the club. We've learned skills that have enhanced our sailing hobby, and we've met people that share common interests. Second, we've developed strong customer relationships with fellow weather geeks by participating in their club activities. Then, we created value for our customers by helping them to enjoy their club experience through writing and offering a theme song for club.

Do you think that we've making progress in the requirements of the marketing statement, above? How about the requirements of the marketing statement below? I believe that we've passed the mid-term quiz. We'll continue developng our strategy in Part 3 of this article, coming up soon! In the meantime, work out your niche market strategies.

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» How To Build A Fan Base From Niche Markets [Part 1 of 3] - This three-part article will explore one approach to building a fan base that any independent artist can employ (2010-11-01)


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