A tree falls in the forest. Scrap metal is loaded into a trailer. Fresh mulch is tossed from a grinder. What do these three things have in common? They are all products produced or processed by small businesses. Sometimes these business types are referred to as niche industries. Have you wondered how you can better reach these individuals and convert prospects to customers?

Marketing to professionals — and they are professionals — in niche industries requires understanding the audience. For public relations practitioners, this is PR 101 — identify the target or primary audiences and their needs. It’s not as easy as touring a construction jobsite, landscaping project or farm. In fact, sometimes it can be difficult to find these businesses because they are intentionally out of the way, hidden from most of the society.

Don’t discount the importance of marketing to niche audiences. In our agency’s business-to-business efforts, this may include forestry and logging professionals, scrap metal recycling companies and organic waste/compost experts. These companies provide a valuable service to our country and local communities. Their importance should not be overlooked, nor should they be marketed to with the same messages as companies in broader construction industries.

Go beyond online searches
Before search engines, marketing departments or sales specialists would comb through the Yellow Pages to search for prospective customers. Fast-forward to today, and phone books are nearly obsolete and sales specialists gather their contacts through web searches. How likely is it that companies in logging, recycling or composting are online? Not very. That’s not a slight against them. They’re often too busy working to create a website or Facebook® page. The best way to find these individuals is to go where they gather after work or industry tradeshows.

Conferences and trade shows are a staple for niche industries. For example, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) represents scrap buyers. ISRI members gather annually for educational opportunities, training, a trade show … and to have fun, too. Contact associations to learn more about how your company can become an associate member and perhaps be part of the trade show. Once you’re there, use an incentive to entice members to your booth, where you can interview them and learn more about their passion for their business. Forestry professionals and composting experts also gather each year at conferences. Get boots on the ground and be prepared to listen. Learn as much as you can.

Schedule focus groups
Another way to reach niche audiences is to invite them to participate in a focus group. If you can’t get to an industry trade show, focus groups are the next best thing. Contact a local equipment dealership to ask if you can partner with it for a list of its customers who may be interested in participating in research. Host the focus group in the evening and serve a meal. You may even want to offer an incentive, such as a gift card, to get your audience to attend. These are extremely busy people. Expect challenges when you invite them to your focus group.

Focus groups provide good qualitative data. Don’t forget that it’s not quantitative and shouldn’t necessary be applied universally across your target audience. Summarize the findings and highlight the common themes, and share your research with your marketing department or agency. Incorporate what you’ve learned in your tactics.

Tailor your messages
Don’t rely on generic messages that are designed for a wide audience. Be specific when writing toward niche audiences. Learn their lingo and incorporate it in your copy. Tell readers how your company can address a problem or need that a customer is facing. For example, explain how having rearview and sideview cameras on a piece of equipment can improve visibility and enhance safety.

Capture real images from customers working in their natural settings: Go to the forest and see log loaders working on slopes. Visit scrap yards where material handlers and grapples are lifting and loading materials. Take in the sights and smells of fresh compost as organic waste is diverted from sanitary landfills and transformed into a highly sought after landscaping product.

Drive them online
Encourage your audience to engage with your content — such as visiting a website, watching a video or completing an online form — and then provide an incentive to keep them engaged and connected to your brand. Some examples may include the following branded merchandise:
• Flashlights
• Hats
• Multipurpose tools
• Pocketknives
• Tumblers

Although this post is tailored toward industrial-type customers, the same principles can be applied to any number of businesses that market their products and services to a niche audience. Do your research, attend industry events, host a focus group, tailor your message and offer incentives for more success when you’re marketing to specialized companies. Make small businesses feel unique, because they are different from many other companies in the world of business-to-business sales and marketing.

About Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is a PR pro, with an earned accreditation in public relations. He has been with Two Rivers Marketing for 15 years, and as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, you could say he has earned his loyalty badge. Ryan is a senior public relations supervisor who specializes in copywriting, media relations, and custom publishing. He served as den leader for seven years for a client’s award-winning custom publication. You can pick Ryan’s brain on custom content or swap scout stories with him at ryanj@2rm.com.