The New Regular: There Will Be Many New Niches

Jim Blasingame

This is the 11th edition of my New Regular series, which is committed to helping Main Street businesses make the tenuous transition to a post-pandemic economy. Normal hasn’t been seen since corona was just a beer.

Do you like baklava – that pastry so luscious it’s served in little pieces? Who doesn’t? But what does baklava have to do with operating a business in a pandemic-induced panic? Well, as scrumptious as it is, the connection isn’t about how it tastes, but rather, how it’s made.

Cutting a baklava square in half reveals that it’s constructed of multiple layers of buttery, cinnamony, honey-drenched, walnut-laden sheets of phyllo dough baked into an elegant and rich eating experience.

Slicing into the marketplace you’ll see it looking increasingly like baklava: multiple layers of innovation-drenched effort baked into elegant choices and rich experiences. But zoom in closer. Just as each wafer-thin sheet of baked baklava breaks into more layers of cookie-inside-a-cookie, the marketplace stratifies into finer layers of even greater variations, nuances, and elegance.

Those finer layers are called niches. (My snooty friends say “neesh,” I prefer “nitch.” Tomato, to-mah-to). A niche is defined as being “perfectly suited for the person or thing in it.” And if there were ever two things perfectly suited for each other, it’s the niche and small business. It’s a beautiful thing to watch an entrepreneur discover a new niche and fill it, and later identify and fill a niche of that niche.

Out here on Main Street, a niche is your customers’ evolving expectations looking for a home. And it can be even more granular than a stand-alone business model, like a finely-tuned strategy designed to provide a home for those customer expectations. Just as many baklava layers make the eating experience richer, niches do the same thing by delivering elegant customer solutions. Which customers like – a lot.

Humans are different from other members of the family Animalia in that, beyond what we need, we also want. What customers want – businesses customers and consumers – is customization, which is anything from a little bit more to everything. And along that customization continuum, you find niches. Lots of niches.

The reason it’s important to think about niches right now, as our businesses are being extruded through an unprecedented pandemic portal, is because the next 12 months will produce unprecedented layers of new niches.

The good news is, you’ll identify each one the old-fashioned way: by observing and listening to customers. It worked like a charm in ancient Babylon, and it will work in the post-pandemic third decade of the 21st century. You’ve no doubt been successful doing this, or you wouldn’t have made it this far.

But here’s the big post-pandemic question: Going forward, as you re-start your niche discovery process, can you shed 2019 niche paradigms that have become baggage?

This will be on the test: Whatever you did last year cannot be presumed to work the rest of this year or next. And anything that appears to still be relevant will likely morph into a variation on that theme – a new niche. Give each one its own name, because it will have its own purpose.

For consumers, look for niches in how customers take delivery, apply, and consume what they need and want post-pandemic. Like making baklava, as you lay down a new layer of your business strategy, answer these two questions:

  • How are customer expectations different now from last year?
  • How do we make the shift to deliver whatever that is?

Every consumer expectation also applies to business customers, but with one extra degree of difficulty: your business customers are having their own niche challenges. So, one of your niche strategies should be to help business customers identify and fill the niches of their customers. When you can lay down an elegant layer of helping your customers help their customers, you’ll have customers you can’t run off. And that’s when success will come and play in your backyard.

It’s cold comfort to know that most new-niche pressure that’s been thrust upon you this year was already coming at you in the future – like greater demand for online resources and support, remote working, Zoom sales calls, etc. The pandemic has accelerated those shifts from next year into next week. But in the middle of the greatest economic upheaval in modern history, if you can make the shift to these new niches, it will set you apart and set you up for the New Regular and the next acceleration.

Finally, your niche strategy should be profitable. As desserts go, baklava is expensive because it’s worth it. So, don’t be afraid to charge for filling a niche, because the finer and more elegant the customer expectation, the more it’s worth to them.

Write this on a rock ... Grow your business in the New Regular by observing and listening to customers as they reveal your next niche.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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