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In today's increasingly competitive marketplace, the demand for specialized products or services will increase. If your business sells everything or to everyone, chances are your audience will not perceive any greater value in buying from you than from anyone else. If so, price becomes the only metric by which visitors will compare you to others.

Keep in mind that price is not important. It is an arbitrary figure that merely represents the value of an offering. When you compare apples to apples, the only point of comparison is price since it is the only real, visible distinction between the two. Thus, if *your* value is perceived as equal to that of others, naturally the cheapest alternative will win.

Price is only a metric -- a currency to which most people can relate. Take the weather, for example. When you meet someone on the street, it will likely be a topic of discussion because the weather is a common denominator. Temperature is the same for everyone. "Hot" and "cold," however, are different.

Similarly, price is only used when there's nothing to which one can compare your value. (Of course, price is not the only metric. But most people understand units of dollars more than they do value, which is more subjective.) Therefore, if you're too similar to competitors, price will always be an issue.

The more unique you are, the less competition you will have. And the less competition you will have, the less substitutable you are (or your product is). And the less substitutable you are, the less elastic the demand for your product will be (in other words, the less important price becomes, in this case).

So, if you are copying your competition, or trying to promote your offering as one that's better than your competition, like it or not you're only reminding people of that which you are better: your competition. So, don't duplicate, differentiate! Or as Earl Nightingale once said, "Don't copy, create!"

Being all things to all people will likely help you to stumble onto some people who will visit your site and respond to your offer. It's the law of averages. But the underlying problem is that, with such an approach, you must generate a substantial quantity of hits in order to produce an acceptable result.

Also, the more general or broad you are, the greater the need will be to paint your website, content and marketing messages with broad brushstrokes in order to appeal to everyone. In the end, the traffic generated will be just as general or broad.

Even if your product is a perfect fit for some, it will only be a fit for a small percentage. Also, the "generalness" you project will likely convey that your value is equal to that of others and that there's no added value in buying from you. If so, price is the metric others will use to measure your value.

Additionally, out of the small handful of qualified prospects that hopefully hit your site, a large number of them -- if not all of them -- will likely leave due to your apparent lack of understanding of their specific needs, goals and concerns.

However, the sales you generate will increase dramatically if your site is narrowly centered on a specific theme, product, audience or outcome. And niche marketing has an added benefit: the need to produce a sufficient quantity of website visitors to produce similar results will lessen significantly.

Offline, being everything to everyone is understandable to a certain degree since, geographically, a niche will likely be considerably small. But online, however, niche marketing can work since a market will expand, even if it is a small niche.

However, it's a double-edged sword: since the Internet expands your market, it also expands the competition. Niche marketing is therefore more important online: by narrowing your focus, you both increase your market and decrease your competition!

Here's an illustration: let's say that your best client is the corporate executive earning $50,000 annually or more, and that your website receives approximately 200,000 hits per month.

If your site aims for the public at large, only a small number of that ideal market will be a part of that group of visitors, and an even smaller number will be qualified for your offer.

For the sake of example, let's say that this percentage is around 0.1%. It means that, of 200,000 monthly visitors, only 200 will fit into your market (that's an optimistic figure).

And since your site is too general, an even smaller percentage of those 200 execs (say, about 0.5%) will be truly interested in your offer and eventually buy. In this case, 0.5% (of 200 visitors) will equal to a single client for an entire month.

Looking at it in reverse it means that, if you want to achieve at least a single sale per month from this ideal market, your site will thus require at least 200,000 visitors on a monthly basis, based on the law of averages. Therefore, your marketing efforts will need to multiply exponentially in order to create a high enough quantity of traffic to yield acceptable results.

Now, take the example of another website dedicated exclusively to corporate executives earning over $50,000. However, this site receives a meager 5,000 visitors per month -- admittedly, it's not a lot, especially when compared to the other. But in this case, the percentage of those 5,000 that fall into that site's target market will be 100% -- a 10,000% improvement!

(Additionally, chances are great that your site will magnetize this ideal market, almost effortlessly such as via the search engines, since your site caters to their needs specifically.)

Furthermore, the percentage of interested leads that are in a better position to buy will be higher by virtue of the fact that the site centers on their specific needs. In other words, perceived value will be greater in the mind of those people.

To be conservative, let's say that this percentage is only 5%. It means that out of 5,000 visitors per month, one can achieve 250 sales -- that's 249 more sales than the other (and, on top of that, with only a quarter of the traffic). But let's be a little more conservative, for a moment. Let's say that only 1% buys. It's still a remarkable 500% improvement over the other, as 1% of 5,000 visitors equals to five sales per month.

Of course, the above example is when all things considered are equal -- I agree that there are many variables at play, here. But the spirit of this illustration is clear: it took an equal if not lesser investment of time, effort and money to achieve five sales per month than it did to achieve a single one.

Jim Banks started selling carpets online in 1998. He admits that, at the time, he knew *nothing* about it. Says Banks: "I thought that it would be a non-competitive market ('who would want to sell carpet on the Internet?' I asked myself) and it would allow me to learn about this whole new Internet thing."

But at first, Jim floundered. "I showed carpet on the website, sent out samples, and used a wholesaler in Georgia to deliver the goods. I made some money, but it was a lot of hard work. In fact, a lot of hand-holding of customers was required, and my time was a limiting factor in how much money I could make."

But then, Jim had an idea. He adds: "I had read one or two of your articles at the time where you stressed the importance of niche marketing. And after thinking about that, and applying it to my industry, I came up with the idea of selling carpets and area rugs with children's designs (e.g., animals, letters, game boards, etc). Today, things are going very well!" (By the way, check out Jim's site at

In conclusion, here's my advice: if you're looking at starting a business online, first find a niche and fill it. But if you already are doing business online, then narrow your focus to a specific outcome, audience or product. And finally, if you do sell everything to everyone already, I suggest breaking your business down by developing several sites, which sell the same things but targeted towards different segments of your market.

Michel Fortin of is a professor in marketing at Algonquin College (Ottawa, Canada), an author, a professional speaker and a marketing/ecommerce consultant.

Copyright 2002, Michael Fortin

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Michel Fortin of is a professor in marketing at Algonquin College (Ottawa, Canada), an author, a professional speaker and a marketing/ecommerce consultant.