Finding your niche – lessons to learn from 2009 and a change of direction for Leapfrogg

Well here we are, nearing the end of 2009. Let’s not beat around the bush; it’s been a pretty hard year for the vast majority of businesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably telling a porky!

2009 has led many people to reflect long and hard on the direction their businesses are taking, Leapfrogg included. We’d like to share with you a few of the lessons we have learnt over the last few months. Why? Well, two reasons really. Firstly, because it sets the tone for one or two announcements about a change in direction for Leapfrogg. Secondly; because our experiences are relevant to your business and the likelihood of you succeeding, particularly when it comes to your digital marketing efforts.

What has become abundantly clear for Leapfrogg, and for many of our clients, is that to survive, and indeed prosper, you need to be different, perhaps even utterly unique. Or you need to find a specific niche to tailor your product to. In our case, the market for digital marketing services is becoming more and more crowded with new companies popping up all the time; some of them good, many of them not so. Added to that, the lines are becoming more and more blurred between agencies who previously operated across different markets; web developers are doing search, search marketers doing social media and so on.

This increasingly competitive and complex market place makes it more and more difficult to differentiate. To demonstrate this I did a bit of research this afternoon taking a look at a number of the top agencies in the hope of discovering what it is that actually makes them different to one another. The same buzzwords came up over and over…

…‘best practice’, ‘established’, ’ experienced’, ‘professional’ (I love that one, as if you’d claim to be anything but!), ‘the biggest’, ‘flexible’, ‘award winning’, ‘operate globally’, plain speaking’, ‘bespoke software’, etc, etc…

Trying to put anything aside I already knew about the agencies in question, I could find very little to separate one from another. This is because the list of words you see above do not represent unique selling points, they are just features. Now I’m a ‘long in the tooth’, seasoned professional aware of what to look for in an agency. If I couldn’t find any major points of differentiation, goodness knows how difficult it must be for a prospect when searching for SEO, Paid Search or any other related service!

This fact, combined with a whole load of research, analysis, brainstorming, head scratching and the odd ‘eureka’ moment, has led us to believe that demand will increase for boutique style agencies who are specialists in a particular niche; who understand this niche inside out; who can offer a solution so well tailored to that niche it makes it impossible for a company operating in that niche to want to work with anyone else but that boutique agency.

So that’s where we are heading in 2010. Now we are not going to tell you what the niche is right now; we are still in the planning stages. But what we can say, from our experience, is that by selecting a niche it provides highly refined focus on strategy, sales, marketing, product development, recruitment, training and so on; direction that is nigh on impossible when you are too broad or do not understand what it is that makes you different to everyone else.

For Leapfrogg, what this does mean is the closure of our lovely little office in Southampton. Our new strategy does not demand regional offices because by being exceptional in your niche location no longer matters. We are by no means abandoning Southampton; far from it. We have made some great contacts there. It is just not necessary with a new strategy in place to have an actual office space in the city.

So we’ve learnt a lot in 2009 but what can you take away from our experiences?

Well, if you’re just starting out, reviewing your plans for 2010 or about to invest your marketing budget online STOP before you do anything and think really hard…

WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOUR PROPOSITION COMPLETELY UNIQUE?

I mean utterly different to everyone out there. If you don’t know, do as I did this afternoon. Look at your competitors; look at yourself; ask your staff; analyse your products and so on. Work out your unique selling point and build your strategy around it.

Because all the signs are 2010 could be as tough as 2009. And with increasing competition online you will need to work harder than ever to turn prospects into customers. If your proposition is the same as everyone else it will always come down to price. And not everyone can be the cheapest. So to prosper you will need to find your point of differentiation and build your strategy around it.

Unfortunately, too many business owners to this day believe that by simply having a website or throwing money at Google they will make their millions. Wrong! Digital marketing cannot operate in isolation. It will only be successful as part of a well thought out business strategy where your goals are crystal clear. Absolutely integral to this is knowing what it is that makes you different and using this to establish direction and, crucially, competitive advantage.

That’s what we’ve done and we feel great for it. We know where we are heading and the niche we want to target. The team are excited and focused so we can’t wait for 2010. So with that, we’d like to thank Southampton for our short term stay. We’ll still be spending plenty of time in that part of the world, just not with the luxury of our own office.

Until the next time…

11 Responses to Finding your niche – lessons to learn from 2009 and a change of direction for Leapfrogg

  1. Hi Ben,

    Just got round to reading this – excellent post and well done to you and the team for making such a brave decision with Southampton. From what we’re seeing in terms of appointment setting for clients you are 100% right on the niche focus. If you get the specific propositions to back that up (which I’m sure you will) then you’ll be in a great position next year. Good luck with the new strategy,

    James

  2. Hi Ben

    Thanks for clearing that up. I missed the point that you were referring to a vertical market, so sorry about that. Thanks for the reply, greatly appreciated. Best of luck with everything and with the year ahead.

    Aaron

  3. Hi Aaron,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Just to tidy up any confusion around the idea of a boutique offering, we are not planning to specialise in one particular service, SEO for example. I fully agree that agencies need to offer a range of services, which in turn create a more rounded strategy. Therefore, we will continue to deliver search, social media and content services. What we will be doing however is honing these services to a particular industry sector. In my experience, few agencies REALLY specialise in delivering digital marketing strategies aimed at a specific market sector. Our view is that by doing so it not only offers us great focus in sales, marketing, product development, training, etc but also offers a point of difference between Leapfrogg and other agencies.

  4. Hi Ben

    I am impressed with your honesty and candour with this post. It’s interesting that you say that the tactical boutique disciplines (such as web design, search eCRM etc) are going to be the green fields for next year. Our digital agency is one year old next week, and I launched it with the view that clients didn’t need another boutique style offer, what they needed was an overall digital marketing strategy to bind everything together, so I am interested as to how you came to that conclusion.

    I agree with you that clients need to think end to end and also that having a key differentiator is important, so obviously I am very interested by the way that you intend to occupy your niche.

    It has definitely been a tough year all round. My initial plans for profit and growth went out of the door almost as soon as we launched and the focus changed to be that of survival which we have achieved and I am proud of everyone for doing it. There have been a lot of very good people who haven’t done that which is a shame for the industry.

    All the best with the year ahead

    Aaron Savage
    Interactive Mix Limited

  5. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for your comments. I completely agree that people and competency are absolutely key. However, most of the better agencies, in our experience, sell themselves using the people angle. As agencies, we are not selling a tangible product but instead our knowledge and experience. Therefore, it is inevitable that agencies will always sell themselves on the quality of their people. So from our point of view it is another potential USP that a huge number of agencies already adopt. Therefore, our team is not a point of differentiation in a crowded market place, despite the fact they are very good at what they do.

    In terms of the second point, we are basing our decision to target a particular niche on our existing expertise, experience, client base, lack of competition for specialist agencies within that niche and how we predict the economy and Internet will evolve. We are by no means abandoning other sectors, certainly not in the short to medium term anyway, but over the coming months we will develop a specific offering to target a niche sector which we believe will help to differentiate Leapfrogg from the vast majority of other agencies.

  6. Interesting article. From my own perspective the two key things that differentiate service agencies are the people and their competency (or how well they apply their expertise). Sure, many agencies sound the same from an outsider’s perspective, but once you get to know them their people and their competency make the difference very obvious.

    In terms of niches: how do you pick the right one? It’s easy to look back retrospectively and say “this agency was a success because of their niche”. On the other hand, you can’t do everything (even if your customers want you to) and if you do, you lose focus.

  7. Thanks Martyn. No need to be sorry about S’ton. We are by no means abandoning the Solent region in terms of our marketing efforts. We’ve met some good people down there but our revised strategy does not demand we have a full time office in the city.

    Onwards and upwards!

  8. Absolutely agree Ben. It feels brave, but the year that I really specialised was the year that our business doubled in size and, oddly, all of the work outside the niche stayed too.

    Look forward to hearing what the USP will be, because I am finding it hard to differentiate amongst all you guys at the moment. It is getting crowded and that makes it really hard to refer, other than by virtue of the fact that you are nice people, but others are too.

  9. Wise words Mr Potter. Sorry to hear about Southampton, but excited to see the new direction unfold for you guys. I have no doubt what ever the froggers turn there hand to, will be worth watching.

    onwards.

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