“How do I market my shop and products?” is the most common question I get asked by shop owners who use Shapeways, the 3D printing service and marketplace where I work on the community team. My answer is always more questions: do you know specifically who you are trying to market your products to? And, if so, why should those people be interested in what you make?
The term “marketing” applies to so many activities: social media presence and strategy, publicizing your work, advertising, writing copy as well as taking great photos of the things that you make, and how you present your work at a fair or in a boutique just to name just a few. There are many resources available to learn about each of those subjects (and many of them are on this blog), but to make an effective marketing strategy first you need to identify your niche.
Before you think about what communities your potential customers are part of take a moment to think about the niches communities that you participate in. What are the specific activities and interests that you are passionate about? That make you geek out? What are the minute details that you could talk about for hours?
For example, I play guitar. I don’t just identify as a guitarist, but as a self-taught guitarist who plays post-punk inspired indie rock in Brooklyn as part of a “do it yourself” scene. And I don’t just play any guitar – I play a Fender Jazzmaster. I’m even part of a “Fender Jazzmaster Appreciation Society” Facebook group. See how specific that is?
You are not just a knitter, a printmaker, an illustrator, or a chef. Think about what you love to make and what communities support and sustain the work that you do. The niche communities that we are part of are the ones that we go to when we have a technical question, need to work through a tough issue, or want to hang out with people with whom we can unwind and talk shop with and not feel like we are boring everyone around us with our geeky details. Our niches are where we open up and share our passion. They make us feel powerful for being who we are and liking what we like.
Once you’ve thought about the power of niche communities in your own life and work, shift to thinking about the power of niches for your business and the products that you create. In some cases, you may be creating products for your niche community. For example, on Shapeways many model railroad enthusiasts use the site to create custom, 3D printed model trains that they then show off and sell to other model railroad enthusiasts. However, the jewelry makers using Shapeways to produce custom jewelry are not necessarily selling to other jewelry makers, but to everyone from newly engaged couples to Star Trek fans (and sometimes both!). The wedding industry is a great way to think about selling to a specific group with specific needs: if you are a letterpress printer who makes wedding invitations the niche you may be marketing to is the hip bridal market in Brooklyn, even if you are not a bride or making a career in the wedding/events industry yourself.
The niche communities that are your market may not be the niche communities you are a part of, and when it comes to working out a marketing strategy to reach them, this is a key distinction to make. If you are marketing to communities that you are part of, you already have the resources to find the top blogs, events and community influencers where you can advertise and pitch/sell your products. If your niche community is not one that you participate in already you have to do the research to understand who wants products like yours as well as how what you make fits into their passion? Where are they getting information about what’s new and cool in their world and how can your marketing strategy put what you make on their radar? Taking the time to figure out where you fit, and whose passions your products appeal to, will make marketing your products a lot more effective and frankly, a lot more fun.
What niche communities are you part of and what niche communities love what you make?
Eleanor Callott Whitney is a writer, rock musician, educator, and arts administrator raised in Maine and living in Brooklyn. She finds joy in bringing order to the chaos of creativity, empowering artists with the tools they need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and in managing and facilitating creative projects with panache. She is the author of Grow: How to take your DIY project and passion to the next level and quit your job! and writes extensively about art, culture and nonprofit management. She published the personal, art zine Indulgence for 15 years, as well as co-founded the Portland Zine Symposium and has worked for the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, and P.O.V./American Documentary. She is the proud recipient of a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Baruch College where she learned to stop worrying and love statistical and budgetary analysis.