4 ways to make your products more niche

By megan auman on March 22, 2011

I hear it at craft shows and trade shows all the time, “You’re so lucky you make X, because I make Y and so does everybody else.”

Regardless of whether you’re a jeweler, potter, or photographer, you probably feel the same way – like you’re in a very crowded product category.

{image via The Great Northern on Etsy}

The great thing about sites like Etsy is that the barrier to entry is so low that you can start a business really easily.  But the bad thing is that so can anyone else.

With each passing day, more and more people throw their hat in the ring when it comes to running a craft business.

And as your category gets more and more crowded, it can be a struggle to get your products to stand out.

But getting your products to stand out in the sea of jewelry, soap, photography, or screen printed t-shirts is essential if you want your business to be a success.

So how do you stand out in a crowded product category?

By focusing your products on a niche.

Focusing on a niche means picking out a specialized corner of the market and diving in.  It means making products for one special person, instead of making average products for average people.

Diving into a niche can be scary.  It can mean alienating a lot of people.  But it can also mean endearing yourself to a small, but passionate group of fans.

Making your products more niche doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon everything you’ve designed.  Instead, you can make your products more niche by focusing on one of four areas – material, subject matter, aesthetic or style, and branding.

Niche by material

When you look at your product category, are you working with the same material as everyone else?  Is there a dominant material in your product category?

While I understand that some categories (like pottery) are more limited in their material options, for others, like jewelry, the sky’s the limit.

And picking one signature, and unusual, material can be a great way to build a niche for your products.

Juliet Ames, who studied craft and jewelry in college, has a wide range of techniques in her repertoire.  But she’s built a business working with one unusual material – broken plates.

By embracing an unusual material, Juliet has created plenty of buzz and recognition for her jewelry.

Niche by subject matter

Can you sum up the subject matter of your designs in one sentence?  How about one word?

Or does your product line span a dictionary’s worth of topics?

A great way to create a niche product, regardless of the materials you work with, is to focus on one unique subject matter.

At the Etsy Success Symposium a few weeks ago, I was introduced to The Great Northern.  After struggling to sell embroidery on Etsy, the designers decided to only create pieces that pertain to the cult classic TV show Twin Peaks.

Now, they have a clear focus for their marketing efforts, and a group of loyal fans.

Niche by aesthetic or style

Is there a dominant aesthetic in your product category?  Does your work have a similar style to just about everything else on the market?

Another way to get your products to stand out is to find the dominant style in your niche, and do the opposite.

A quick browse through the photography listings on Etsy reveals soft, vintage-y images.  It’s not surprising – the photographers who originiated that style saw a lot of early success, leading to a wave of copycats.

But if I was a photographer looking to stand out, I would focus on dark, hard-edged images.

Niche by branding

Even if you love everything about your products, and don’t want to change, there’s still a way to carve out a niche for yourself through your branding.

On the surface, the I Believe in Myself bracelets from Pincurl Girls are just simple beaded bracelets.  But paired with fun characters and informational booklets, they become tools for empowering pre-teen girls.  It’s not the product, but the message behind it, that gives the brand a definitive niche.

Standing out in your product category doesn’t mean you have to niche your products in every way I’ve just described.  In fact, niche by all of them is probably overkill.

Instead, look at your current products and skill sets and ask yourself if there’s a way to dive deeper into a niche in one of these areas.

As makers, we have a seemingly infinite number of skills, techniques, and ideas at our disposal.  But as business people, it’s critical that we focus our attention on something a little narrower in order to make our products stand out.

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