Audience Targeting Brand Strategy Business Leadership

Finding your niche: should every brand be targeting narrower audiences?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

January 23, 2023 | 8 min read

Some brands have had recent success by narrowing their audience pool: one-day-a-week dating app Thursday, or no-January-sign-ups gym Equinox. Should more brands follow suit? We asked six marketers.

A neon sign in the shape of a target

To target or not to target? / Brady Bellini via Unsplash

Nitin Sinha, vice president, head of paid media, Laundry Service

‘Brands that want to connect with generation Z need to be authentic.’ We’ve heard this repeated often enough to know that it’s exercised in a wide variety of ways: good, bad, and ugly.

One of these ways is something we might call ‘anti-targeting’: turning away potential customers in favor of unequivocally establishing your brand positioning. My favorite example is REI shutting down on Black Friday, asking customers instead to #OptOutside.

REI likely projected that the long-term revenue impact from #OptOutside would outweigh the short-term loss. But I like to think that the idea originated from a simpler place: REI encouraging its customers and employees to avoid Black Friday chaos.

Authenticity through marketing can be a paradox. How do you show that yours is the real thing? It’s not easy. Smart brands put their money where their proverbial mouths are.

Lavinea Morris, head of planning, EMEA, M&C Saatchi Performance

Targeting niche audiences can make sense but only if its data-driven and not assumptive. If used correctly, it can be an effective part of your marketing mix, driving performance by up-weighting activity toward your most valuable customers. For brands who are willing to consider lifetime value and return on ad spend over customer acquisition cost, it can make your spend stretch much further and build long-term success.

The problem emerges when you become so obsessed with these audience groups that you miss out on opportunities with new customers. When you don’t balance niche with broader targeting testing, you will oversaturate your existing audience base and eventually stagnate your growth and bottom line. Niche targeting may be tempting but you have to think about the impact on your marketing priorities.

Becky Simms, co-founder and chief executive officer, Reflect Digital

Humans are complex systems, and ultimately every ad or marketing campaign is a human. Niche audience groups and targeting rely on truly understanding your market, their motivations, needs and drivers.

Behavioral nudges are a fantastic toolkit for marketers looking to target niche audiences. One such nudge is the ‘self-reference effect’, which demonstrates that people are more likely to remember information that is more relevant to them. Therefore, if an ad is hyper-specific to a user's interests or behavior, it can lead to ‘unexpectancy’ (pairing interest with an unexpected third party) and can cause cognitive strain. This cognitive strain helps with memorability and brand recall.

Nudges with niche audiences are a great way to increase the potential for engagement, immediately and later down the line.

Helen Androlia, director of strategy, Canada, Momentum Worldwide

While advertising is usually thought of as ‘mass’, I believe that we have always been niche to a degree. Some of the biggest brands in the world aren’t speaking to ‘everyone’ but to a specific target audience that is clearly realized. Whole Foods and the affluent, health-conscious consumer, for instance, or Square and its focus on small business.

As mainstream social media struggles to keep users, younger consumers especially are spending more time in closed, interest-based communities. Many Canadians – in Toronto especially – are also using platforms outside of North America to connect with friends and families overseas. Leveraging these channels means you can have more focused conversations and interactions.

Ultimately, most brand experiences are about space and place, from social to shopper to out-of-home. While you may not speak to everyone when you go niche, you can be sure that who you are speaking to really hears what you have to say.

Carli Pring, marketing manager, Tug

Should marketers be targeting ever-nicher audiences? Yes and no. There’s no right or wrong answer, but there is a need for a strong marketing strategy. Niche audience marketing can be an effective way for brands to target specific groups who are more likely to be interested in their products or services. It can also be a more efficient use of marketing efforts and have a higher return on investment. However, while it’s important to find a core demographic, reaching out to a new or a sizable target market can also pay off.

In 1998, Netflix was a direct-to-consumer DVD service designed and limited to 'hardcore' movie fans. Now, it’s a subscription service that allows consumers to access movies and TV shows, streaming from all devices, with cartoons to original TV shows (including the likes of Wednesday) targeting a diverse audience demographic.

That’s not to say that niche marketing isn’t effective. Axe (or Lynx in some markets), the Unilever body fragrance has been advertising products to pique the interest of young males since 1983, with core messaging around the brand’s property of seduction. Recently promoting the new limited-edition Lynx AI with British rapper Aitch, the brand has remained consistent throughout the years with its niche target audience, remaining the go-to smell of male adolescence.

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Adam Connett, head of digital, AgencyUK

By targeting smaller or more defined audiences, brands can offer a bespoke, more considered user journey. Every touchpoint can be designed and measured to support the user, balancing messaging, creative, ad format and landing pages. This is particularly beneficial when the objective is lead generation, where a defined value exchange is fundamental to effectively driving lead performance.

However, on some platforms, we’re seeing a higher cost associated with reaching niche audiences. And with some platforms struggling to yield results if defined audiences are smaller than, say, 20,000 users globally, it’s hard to employ niche targeting methods without hampering results.

Apps and customer relationship management (CRM) are two areas where this can be incredibly effective. Automotive brands like Land Rover have started to tap into this as part of a personalized product experience. This allows the brand to delve into how customers use their products, and enhances their use by offering further value in the form of experience days, and engaging the user in regular feedback and reviews for product development.

Audience Targeting Brand Strategy Business Leadership

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M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

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Reflect Digital Limited

Putting our client’s customers first, we work closely with ambitious global brands and eCommerce businesses looking to elevate their marketing and move towards...

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Momentum Worldwide

Momentum Worldwide is a global experience agency partnering with and transforming the world’s most famous brands since 1987. Built on the simple truth that it’s...

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Tug Agency

Tug is a performance driven, global digital marketing agency, optimised to grow ambitious brands, through the smart combination of data, media, content and technology.


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