‘Sanitize Nothing’ – Chris Brogan

Folks: Dave from Area 224 has been working on a book with Jim Alexander, from Socially Mediated. We’ve conducted interviews, written chapters, re-written chapters. It’s coming along…but not as quickly as either of us would like.

Last month, we did a Q&A with Chris Brogan. Yes, that Chris Brogan. Found him to be an extremely accommodating gentleman.

Rather than make y’all wait for the book, we thought it would be nice to let you see what he said now.

We love the concept of the niche within the niche – but, as we’ve been talking to business owners and marketers, it sounds like the “niche within the niche within the niche” or a combination of niches is really where it’s at. (Like Kogi – Korean food, Street food, gourmet.) Are there any examples of this type of business that you really like?

Chris: My friend Doug Quint (we went to school together back in 8th grade in Maine) is a professional bassoonist for the NY Philharmonic, but decided to take his free time in the summer and launch the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. He sells gourmet ice cream, things like olive oil and salt ice cream (I’m not kidding), and gets quite a great turnout by using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook and a blog and lots of photos of his customers to keep it moving forward. He even has merchandise for sale, because people love the concept and how Doug presents it.

Nichification: Dave has a theory – one that Jim isn’t arguing with yet – that the dirtier or less sexy the niche, the more money that’s in it. Recycling, pool cleaning franchises, landscaping, etc. What do you think of this concept?

Chris: Dave’s not wrong. Waste removal is a huge business. Huge. If I had a few hundred thousand laying around, I’d buy up a franchise opportunity in that space, because guess what: we’re making more and more trash, not less and less. Back in high school, this guy we all knew worked as a trash collector. He got teased about it. At the end of the summer, he bought a Mercedes. Cash. Everyone stopped laughing.

Nichification: You work with big businesses and big brands — ones that are not often thought of as niche marketers. BUT…one man’s “niche” is another’s “market segmentation.” Any good examples of niche businesses within bigger companies that you’ve come to really like?

Chris: Take a brand like Pepsico. What I like about them is that they have soda pop. But they have Gatorade, which is being retooled to really appeal to sports athletes. They have Quaker Oats, which is great for the health conscious. They have Sobe Lifewater, which puts them in that flavored water category. I love it, because the storytelling can be totally different for each one. Heck, even talking within a soda pop vertical, Mountain Dew is marketed to the extreme sports crowd where Pepsi is the everyman drink.

Nichification: One theory that is playing out in the book – niche franchises can be the way to go, as buying into someone else’s concept that has already been proven could lead to, in effect, buying a blueprint for success. Do you agree?

Chris: There are two ways to make business work for you: run someone else’s system, or create your own system. Starting a franchise is great, if you are someone who wants to just learn a system and execute it as it’s laid out. There’s not a lot of creativity permitted in most franchising systems. Depending on the size of the company, you’ll find that they’ll want to rigorously control everything (if they’re big) or you might have some wiggle room in marketing (if they’re smaller). Sam Walton started Wal-Mart because Ben Franklin stores got mad at his methods.

Nichification: How valuable is the “personal brand” in niche marketing? You’ve got a solid personal brand – how can niche marketers learn from you to make sure they keep their brand first and foremost in people’s minds (within their niche, of course)?

Chris: Personal brand definitely matters. If I think of soap, I by Glynne Soaps because Gayle & Jenn have spent lots of time building their brand. My favorite hamburgers are in Milwaukee at AJ Bombers, not the least bit because Joe Sorge makes the place a wonderful place to be. If I stay at a hotel in New York City, you can bet it’ll be the Roger Smith Hotel, because Brian Simpson and Adam Wallace make it a very personable place to be.

Nichification: You’ve been at this business thing for awhile — are there examples you can point to of great niche ideas that just didn’t take off? Why? What would you have advised them to do differently?

Chris: I think that most niches that fail usually fail because they’ve misjudged the prospective buyer’s interest in needing their product or service. Someone selling iPod accessories that doesn’t adapt into iPhone and iPad accessories is doomed, for instance, to pick a very simple product set. People selling into the bicycling community will have trouble unless they’re selling something that stands out.

Nichification: Oh, and do we have your permission to attribute these quotes to you in the book? (If there are any examples that we should “sanitize,” let us know.)

Chris: By all means. You have permission. Sanitize nothing. : )

Editor’s note: we are still working on the book. Promise. There’s more gold like this to come.

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