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The Myth of Boring Niches: How to Really Stand Out and Sell

Red box in the middle of a group of white squares.

Do you brush your teeth every day? How about beer? Are you particular about the brewski you throw back after work?And maybe, just maybe, you’ve eaten a can of pork and beans sometime in your life.

Congratulations! You—like the rest of the country for the last 100+ years—have had your everyday life changed by so-called boring niches. In fact, these industries have played pivotal roles in changing how we think about ourselves and how we live our lives.


  • Life Insurance

  • Legal Services

  • Auto Parts

  • Healthcare

  • Engineering

  • Pool cleaning

  • Heating and Air Conditioning

  • Plumbing Services

The problem is not the niche. The truth is—no, make that—the fact is, there is no such thing as a boring niche.

Why Is It So Hard to Market A So-Called Boring Niche?

There are thousands of these industries across the US. Is it any wonder that these business owners are scratching their heads, especially when you have direct competitors in the same city?

Sign that reads common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.

It seems difficult which is why frustrated business owners ask:

  • How do I get the public to see that even though we sell the same product or service as my competitor, we do business differently?

  • How can I make my practical, valuable business inspire engagement, action, and loyalty when my competitor is selling what I sell?

First, most small business owners understand their product or service backwards, forwards and upside down. What they don’t understand is how marketing works.

That’s understandable. It’s not their primary business, but it is the way to get more business.

Second, everywhere I look, I see marketing experts pushing tactical first, recommending:

  • videos

  • Entertainment

  • Digital ads

as the way to bring in more targeted customers.

They’re absolutely right, of course, but it’s not the first place to start to get more customers engaged with and buying from your business.

That’s actually putting the cart before the horse. To make the tactical work for you, it’s vital to understand what your market really wants.

And that’s not always easy, especially if you’re selling the same product/service as a nearby competitor.

Is it any wonder then that small businesses fall back on the tried and true—customer service?

When you don’t know what else to do to bring in business and get repeat business, customer service is the most likely vantage point to sell.

However, positioning through customer service won’t give you the market distinction you want and deserve.

You need a vehicle.

Have We Lost Our Common Sense About Selling?

The challenge with living in an age that can offer up all kinds of bright, shiny objects—that work, by the way—is that we forget about the engine that runs them.

What happens when you employ video, entertainment, link building, and digital ads, but the results are less than stellar?

Build the vehicle first.

I see this all the time with both businesses and non-profits. People would rather work on what’s easy and/or fun, rather than doing the foundational work of creating a message that connects and sells.

Entertainment, for the sake of entertainment, doesn’t stick around for long.

Anybody remember the December 1999 Monday Night Football “Whassup?” commercial? Entertaining, yes, and profitable. But staying power?

Twenty years have gone by, and Wassup is nothing more than a blip on the radar. In fact, the ad agency that created it said they expected to get one to two years exposure out of the campaign.

The great David Ogilvy, considered the father of modern advertising, said that a “big idea” should last 30 years.

What if, as a small business, you want a message that isn’t trendy, but does deeply connect to your target audience? What if you want staying power?

Let me tell you a story about a man who made millions helping boring niches create staying power.

Claude C. Hopkins: The Myth Buster of Boring Niches

How good was Claude Hopkins? In 1907, Albert Lasker, the owner of the very established Lord & Thomas ad agency hired Hopkins to the tune of $185,000.

Claude C. Hopkins

That’s a huge amount of money by anyone’s standards. But in 1907, that was ginormous, and Hopkins was worth every penny of it.

Hopkins was the genius behind Pepsodent’s marketing campaign getting consumers to brush their teeth daily, a habit we still do today.

He was also the man who rocketed Van Camp Pork & Beans to financial success even though the brand was absolutely no different from its competitors.

But my favorite story—and one that is an excellent example for small business—is Hopkins’ work with Schlitz beer.

How to Distinguish Your Business from Your Competitor Or The Boring Beer Niche That Became A Huge Success

Schlitz ad written by Claude C. Hopkins

In the early 1900’s, Schlitz was tanking in the marketplace. Placing fifth in the industry, they were desperate to change their image and increase sales. They had one problem.

Their beer was made like all the other beer manufacturers. Enter Claude Hopkins. He took a tour of the Schlitz brewery.

Here’s what he found:

  • Plate glass rooms where beer was dripping over pipes

  • Rooms were filled with filtered air so that as the beer cooled, it would be pure

  • Great filters filled with white pulp wood. These were used in the purification process

  • Employees cleaned every pump and pipe twice each day to avoid contaminations

  • Every bottle was cleaned by machinery 4x before filling it with beer

  • The brewery used pure water that was 4,000 feet underground

  • Beer was aged for 6 months before it was for sale

  • The original mother yeast was developed by conducting 1,100 experiments to ensure the utmost beer flavor

Impressive, huh?

For Hopkins, the big question was, “Why aren’t you advertising this?” The manufacturer shrugged and said, “Every beer manufacturer has the same process. We’re no different from anyone else.” (Did you catch that?)

Hopkins replied, “Does the public know this?” No, they didn’t. “The first one to tell the public about this process will gain a big advantage,” he said.

And Schlitz did.

Through a series of ads, Hopkins projected that what Schlitz did was for the benefit of its customers, not to make a buck. Within 6 months, they were the #1 beer in America.

You Don’t Need A Genius Like Claude Hopkins (But You Do Need Common Sense)

You don’t have to hire a genius like Claude Hopkins to ferret out what makes your business a stand out from your competitor. He’s already done the work for you.

What Hopkins so shrewdly utilized was a deep understanding of the human psyche. In our hurry to make a buck, we’ve forgotten that.

The irony is it’s the most important component for generating revenue.

If you make the wise decision to discover your target audience’s real desire, it will last you the lifetime of your business, not a year or two.

So, what’s the small business marketing plan for attracting the right customers to your business?

Follow the eight principles below set forth by Claude Hopkins. They are still used today by marketers who know that getting business is all about getting inside the head of your customer first before anything else.

That’s what it really takes to stand out in a so-called boring niche.

#1 Inner Remarkability

Every business has what Hopkins called “inner remarkability.” The challenge is not to find it, but to recognize it. Just like Schlitz, the company took their brewing process for granted.

Man in suit with hands covering eyes and a dart in his other hand.

Because beer manufacturers used the same process across the industry, Schlitz thought they had nothing to sell.

Are you subject to the same blind spot?

If you are, then so are your competitors! Ask yourself two crucial questions:

  • What business characteristic would arouse curiosity with your target market?

  • Is that characteristic something out of the ordinary, unusual, interesting? Is it worthy of attention by consumers?

For Palmolive Shaving Cream, it was promoting the fact that the shave cream could moisten the beard in one minute. And, it had the potential to quicken the cutting action of the beard.

They took these characteristics of their product for granted.

You, too, have some advantage in your business that you take for granted. Maybe your competitors use it, too, but nobody’s promoting it. Use it!

Here’s an example of what not to do: I worked with an IT company to help them find their distinction in the marketplace. And I did.

It was buried in a proposal to an old client. When I found it, I simply couldn’t believe they hadn’t used it. No one in their industry certainly never had.

It would have made a huge difference in their sales. Sadly, their response was lackluster. A year later, the owner called me wanting some more information on the work we had done the year before.

Be the business that finds the difference and uses it!

#2 Personalities

Professor Anderson
Professor Anderson who invented Puffed Rice.

A company name isn’t as engaging to consumers as a personality, a person. Just as in Hopkins’ time, it’s true today. Companies are often seen as profit-seeking, not caring about the regular person.

Quaker Oats learned this with their Puffed Rice and Wheatberries. Their inner remarkability was rice that was blown up 8x their original size.

Hopkins positioned the product using the inventor of puffed rice, A.P. Anderson, as the face of the product. It worked.

Professor Anderson who

invented Puffed Rice

Another advertising giant, Leo Burnett, understood that, too. That’s why he created:

  • Tony the Tiger

  • The Marlboro Man

  • The Maytag Repairman

  • United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies”

  • Allstate’s “You’re in Good Hands”

If your business is faceless, consider creating a persona, a face of your company. Give people something “real” to see and relate to. Pair that persona with a message that helps make the public’s life better.

#3 Target Hope, Not Fear

As marketers, we often use fear as a motivating factor. I use it in my copywriting, but only a pinch. A little goes a long way.

As Hopkins understood more than a century ago, promote hope; it sells.

A man dipping his finger into a jar of beauty cream.

Pears Soap veered from the standard course of targeting body odor to helping women find ways to improve their complexion.

Hopkins used Cleopatra because she used palm and olive oils. By tapping into every woman’s hope of long lasting beauty, the company grew their audience and their sales.

Move away from using fear as the primary message. Offer a pinch instead. Focus on the benefits to them when they use your product or service,

#4 Do Your Research

What if you have a product/service that you know is far better than what your competitor offers? But you can’t budge your competitor’s customers away from the brand because of their loyalty.

How can you encourage them to switch?

The answer is always to talk to them. Find out what they like about the product and what they want most from the product/service.

Two puzzle pieces being put together.

For Palmolive Shaving Cream, Hopkins discovered that men wanted abundant lather, a lather that lasted, and they wanted to make quick work of shaving. (Palmolive’s current brand didn’t offer that.)

Once Hopkins understood the missing link to wooing customers away from their current brand, he asked the Palmolive chemists to multiply the lather 250 times which was far more than competing brands.

And it worked.

Sometimes there’s a gap in your marketplace. Finding that gap through research is the key to standing out from your competitors and selling more.

But here’s the other piece of it.

#5 Design Ads for Observability

Ads need to be visually informative, showing the viewer how the product/service benefits them directly.

A man looking in the mirror, shaving.

Pairing strong visuals with a desire that the audience wants filled is the formula for success. For the Palmolive shave ads, it was a matter of showing men lathering on Palmolive’s thick, luxurious shaving crème.

Men loved it and sales for the shave cream soared. And, it set a shaving standard that’s still sought today. Men perceive a thicker shaving cream as one of higher quality.

#6 Find the Consumer’s Weak Spot

What if there really is absolutely no difference between you and your competitors? That was the challenge placed before Van Camp’s Pork & Beans.

For Van Camp’s, it meant finding the customer’s weak point and positioning the product as the solution.

At the time of the campaign, women were still making pork and beans at home. This required a 16-hour commitment. Through Hopkins marketing, he made this a major selling point by emphasizing the length of time it took to make the dish.

He also emphasized the type of water the company used (better than tap water), that the product was baked in steam ovens at 245 Celsius, a temperature no housewife could do.

And, the company provided free samples to consumers who asked for them. It paid off. More housewives bought the Van Camp’s and sales increased substantially.

If there absolutely is no difference between you and your competitor, find your target audience’s weak spot. Then use it to show how you can make their life better.

#7 Simplify

How can your business make your customer’s life easier? Can you save them:

  • Time

  • Money

  • Effort

  • Brain power

#8 Reward

If you’re thinking, “That’s great but I don’t have the bandwidth to do this,” let me ask you politely to zip it.

This isn’t as much about having a big brain as it is about having a big mindset. None of this is rocket science. And you don’t have to use all of these principles, just the ones that make sense for your industry.

And with so much information now available on the web, you can find a lot of useful information to test.

Websites such as User Testing, will let you get real time feedback on what your audience thinks of what you’re offering.

But the cheapest, most effective way of finding why your customers are loyal to you is to talk to them.

Using the 100+ year old small business mantra of offering service over sales will achieve two important objectives.

  • Listening to a customer complaint or listening to a customer testimonial provides you with invaluable information. Both will help you get better at what you do and distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

  • By actively listening to your customer, you’re showing you care about what the customers thinks, that you value it over making sales. Big box stores don’t even try to offer this. A customer that feels like they’ve been heard is the glue for customer retention.

If you think about it, almost every industry is a “boring” niche, not because it is, but because we define it that way.

The hallmark of an extraordinary small business is one that is willing to dig in and understand its customers more deeply than it currently does.

It’s also the willingness to understand the competition and where the gaps of opportunity for customer growth may be.

It’s thinking strategically so that customers benefit today as well as tomorrow. Focus firmly on what motivates your customer, then answer that call. If you'd like help with your marketing message and getting found on Google in your local market, schedule a 30-minute complimentary consult with me. I'll give you at least 3 tips you can use right now to boost your marketing message and local visibility.


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