I loved the title of this recent article in Strategy + Business. All Brands are Niche Brands. It’s true. It doesn’t matter what you sell — automobiles (which the article was about), computers, music players, clothing, fast food, etc. You name it, it’s niche. It doesn’t even matter if the industry has a clear “market leader”, like Microsoft in operating system software, because, when you get right down to it, even though Microsoft might still have 85% of the OS market, they have so many versions that there is no true majority leader. Furthermore, as Linux and Mac OS X gain market share, their market is shrinking.
As Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of Freakonomics, and Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail, have noted, with a global population approaching Seven (7) Billion, two standard deviations from the mean is fast becoming a sizable market in its own right, with a potential market size of up to 280 Million (as only 95.4% of the global population is within two standard deviations of the mean). If we subtract the 39% living in poverty, and then restrict our market size to the middle class (about 45% in non-third world economies), that still leaves a potential global market size of up to 76 Million. And if even only 1% of that market would be interested in your product, that’s still a sustainable business for a small company.
Plus, with product proliferation almost out of control in some verticals — such as cell phones, media players, and clothing — it should be easy to see that niche markets are fast becoming the norm.
So next time you’re sourcing, remember that you’re not just sourcing a commodity, you’re sourcing a niche product for a niche market and, sometimes, differentiation does help.