Marketers have long talked about niches. They’ve touted the benefits of narrowing your focus to specific groups, then pitching your services based on your unique experience and client offerings. Financial advisors have been listening to the experts and applying this business mantra to building their books.
But many advisors’ understanding of this concept is only skin deep. They take a Band-Aid approach to growing their business, which may help somewhat, but they do not fully identify a specific group of clients and what the advisor can do for them.
“Most advisors tend to stay on a superficial level. That’s not really very helpful,” says Stephen Wershing, president of the Client Driven Practice LLC, a consulting firm for financial advisors in Rochester, N.Y. Wershing says advisors do not drill down far enough into a niche. While many advisors may say their niche is “doctors” or “teachers” or “small-business owners,” each of these segments is too big and too broad a group to represent a true area of specialization for an advisor, Wershing explains. These also are groups likely identified by many other advisors.
The first step toward making better use of niche marketing is to understand its importance to you and your clients. “[Niche marketing] is the most efficient way to build a business and the most efficient way to enhance your business-development efforts,” says Wershing, author of Stop Asking for Referrals: A Revolutionary New Strategy for Building a Financial Service Business that Sells Itself.
For many people, “niche” is synonymous with “target market.” While the two are interconnected, Wershing says, they are distinct. A target market is the group you want to attract: university professors, for example.
A niche, on the other hand, is the experience you bring to the table that will attract members of that target market and makes you stand out from the crowd.
So, your target market could be retired people with a disability. Your niche would be learning all about the tax credits offered to seniors and people with disabilities and helping those people navigate the forms, such as the disability tax credit application, to help implement an optimal plan. Your charitable efforts would be geared toward groups that assist people with disabilities.
David Gorveatte, an independent certified financial planner who works under Investia Financial Services Inc.’s umbrella in Fredericton, focuses his marketing efforts on older people, particularly those nearing retirement. When he first identified this group as a potential target market, he began to build his niche by meeting with the human resources manager of the local power company — following up on an article Gorveatte read that stated the company was downsizing.
After Gorveatte made a presentation demonstrating the information he could provide employees about the financial aspects of their retirement plan, he was hired by the company to conduct preretirement seminars. It’s a role, he says, he retains to this day.
There are key markers that tell you if you’re on the right track toward developing a niche market. First, the group must be identifiable, says George Hartman, CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto.
The more specifically you can identify or subdivide the group, Wershing adds, the better: “You need to drill down.”
Once you have identified your niche, such as “pediatricians with families” or “retirees who used to do factory work,” do some research before you begin to approach members of that group with a pitch, Wershing says. Talk to people in the group and identify the questions they need answered. You may even want to set up an advisory board to help you learn about the needs and concerns of your group of choice and to affirm the seriousness of your intent and the benefits of doing business with you.
Prepare to be surprised, Wershing says: “There are a whole bunch of things you can anticipate. Others are not so obvious.”
Wershing, who specializes in coaching financial advisors on niche marketing, cites a recent example. He conducted a focus group for a client interested in targeting doctors in private practice in the U.S. Wershing discovered that this segment of health professionals is becoming less common as an increasing number of private medical practices are being purchased by hospitals and insurance companies.
Doctors were most concerned about making sure they would get the best deal when the health-care system buys their business, Wershing says. Armed with this kind of insight, you, as these doctors’ advisor, can create or find the expertise needed to answer their questions and become a valuable resource for members of your niche market.
Communicating your niche
Hartman notes that creating a marketing plan specifically directed at a niche requires three key elements.
First, you’ll need to identify and develop the message that is most likely to capture the attention of your niche.
Second, you need to highlight the “differentiation” you offer this group. That can be personal or business-related.
Third, there is a practical consideration. How will you reach this group? What is their preferred method of communication? The answer could be emails, events or e-newsletters — or all three.
Hartman points out that determining the specific promotional activities you will use and planning your campaign around them is essential. “Look for opportunities to communicate within the niche,” he says.
Success depends on digging deep. Identifying the best messages and best ways to reach your niche requires a robust understanding of the members of your target market. “Create a hypothetical client,” Wershing says. “Then you are in a much better position to create an appropriate experience for them.”
Wershing cites a financial advisory firm that specializes in airline pilots. Key to this firm’s success is speaking the language of its niche. For example, he notes, a retirement guide prepared by the company is entitled Final Approach.
There are distinct benefits of working with a niche. Working with a narrow group of clients enables you to develop expertise in issues important to the group, Hartman says, and you will become known as an expert in the field.
Working with a niche also offers you an opportunity to develop efficient processes based on commonalities among niche members. Your processes could include fact-finding exercises in the discovery stage or the development of financial planning strategies.
One of the key advantages, Gorveatte says, is that “you are fishing in a stocked pond with lots of big fish.”
He notes that his approach to dealing with clients also helps grow his niche. “I am not pushy and give lots of information, which most people don’t do,” he says. “This helps me be more approachable and has worked well for me.”
From the client’s perspective, there is usually better client/advisor communication because you understand the client’s world and speak their language. Clients also are confident that you have expertise in specific, applicable areas and that you truly understand the niche. This common ground translates into a more efficient engagement process.
Marketing costs also are reduced, Hartman adds, because your marketing is more targeted.
Another plus in a digital era: roboadvisors are less of a threat to your business or your marketing if you work with a niche.
“I do not believe that robo-advisors would have much influence on serving most niche markets, except perhaps where low cost is a requirement or the planning work is very simple,” Hartman says.
There are disadvantages to niche marketing, but “these are low-risk,” Hartman says. Among the risks: missing opportunities in other areas and becoming known as only dealing in one specific market. But a well-executed niche strategy should render opportunities in other markets less profitable than the niche business you have.
While the advantages of niche marketing are both tangible and proven, buying into the concept and ultimately succeeding in this area may be difficult for some advisors for several reasons. Foremost among those: resistance.
“You have to drive a stake in the ground and claim your territory,” Wershing says. “If [a potential client] comes along [who is] outside the niche, you should say no. That is really hard.”
If you do welcome clients from outside your niche group, your marketing plan should not change to accommodate them. These clients will remain outsiders. “Don’t expand your experience or marketing to cater to them,” Wershing says.
Some advisors may have difficulty arriving at a marketing strategy or even determining a niche group to focus on. When building a new business or growing an existing one, Wershing says, you need to ask one critical question: “Why should clients choose me?”
Making the niche your own
Think broadly — and narrowly — when identifying your niche market.
“Niches can be based on just about any criteria,” says George Hartman, CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto. Among the more common criteria are:
- Age (for example, pre-retirees, recent graduates, millennials)
- Occupations or professions (teachers, doctors, specific types of business owners)
- Special interests (sports, hobbies)
- Special needs ( “sudden money,” such as severance packages, inheritances, divorce settlements, sale of a business)
- Special circumstances (children with a disability, elder care, graduating students, divorce, interfamily wealth distribution)