In content marketing, you’re often told to find your niche — to carve a path through unchartered territory with a narrowly defined audience. Finding your niche, you’re told, is the only way to succeed in blogging in 2020.
But Steph Smith doesn’t buy it (and neither should you).
Steph Smith is a content marketer, Head of Trends at The Hustle, and author of Standing Out in 2020: Doing Content Right, which garnered $40,000 in sales within its first month. On a recent episode of the Growth Machine Marketing Podcast, Steph rejected the idea that blogs, products, and services should focus on carving out a niche.
Instead, Steph encourages creators to find your key differentiator to establish your competitive edge. By zeroing in on what you’re best at — what you can do better than anyone else — you can set yourself apart, even in the most saturated of markets.
Simply put, your key differentiator is what you're best at. Your differentiator can be anything — humor, tone of voice, customer service — and may even seem unrelated to what you're selling. Zappos’ differentiator was their customer service. Chartr’s differentiator is their charts.
Every brand, service, and product has a key differentiator — a way they rise above the competition. Your job is to find your key differentiator and project it across all marketing channels.
By homing in on your key differentiator, you can attract an audience (and monetize that audience) in the most saturated of markets.
To prove this point, Steph points to Costco — the multibillion dollar retailer who sells goods at wholesale prices. Competing against department stores, supermarkets, and almost every other retailer across the globe, Costco exists in a highly-competitive industry.
And yet, Costco is able to distinguish themselves from the competition because of their key differentiator: price. When Costco emerged, they were willing to sacrifice a number of traits (customer experience, locations, convenience, and store style) if they could just win on price.
Steph followed this same approach when writing her ebook, Standing Out in 2020: Doing Content Right. (And if you use the promo code “growthmachine” you’ll save 25%.) Steph understood content marketing is, and will continue to be, a saturated industry. She also knew the realm of content marketing is filled with spammy articles, filled with empty promises of get-rich-quick schemes and algorithm gimmicks.
So, what’s Steph’s key differentiator? Transparency.
In an industry clouted with “secrets” of the trade, Steph chose to publish the entire (and very detailed) table of contents for her ebook outright. In addition, she hosted a pre-sale of her book — which attracted over 400 buyers — so individuals could speak to the legitimacy of her product. By showing her cards, Steph has become one of the most honest, trusted, and transparent content marketers on the internet.
At Growth Machine, we understand every business has key differentiators — unique traits that separate them from industry competitors. We transform each client's differentiation strategy into a style guide unique to them. We capture their tone, value proposition, potential customers, and other unique variables, then carry those differentiators across their content strategy.
When brands attempt to "find their niche," they divide an existing market into increasingly more specific segments, attempting to capture the entire target audience within that segment. But by focusing on your brand differentiator — rather than carving out a niche — you can successfully enter an existing, competitive market.
For instance, since The Hustle covers business and technology, they technically compete against media publications like The New York Times and Axios. And yet, The Hustle created a name for themselves because of their unique voice. Even though their target market could read the same stories through other outlets, their tone and voice gave them a competitive advantage.
At Growth Machine, we have a number of clients who operate in similar or parallel industries. But if you would read content from two Growth Machine clients (within the same industry) side-by-side, two posts would sound nothing alike. This is because we reflect our clients' key differentiators within every article we write, rather than force our clients into a narrow niche that may not fit their brand.
In order to define your brand differentiation, you need to ask yourself the question, "What am I amazing at?" Once you find your key differentiator, you need to reflect it across all messaging channels.
All too often, creators focus on what they’re creating. They want to launch a finance blog or create a newsletter on tech startups, thinking there’s only one way to be the best in that space.
Which simply isn’t true.
Rather than focus on your end product or service, your “what”, focus on your how — how you — and only you — can deliver this product differently. Will you bring a sense of humor to an otherwise stale industry? Could you provide short, easy-to-digest snippets of information? Can you design infographics that help break down complex topics?
Growth Machine clients have "won" their key differentiators in a number of ways. Although we can’t identify these clients by name, we can share that one client, which makes a low-carb breakfast cereal, is known for their puns and funny social media posts. Another client, a fundraising platform, has an emoji game that no one else can compete with. And a kitchen appliance company brings a level of snark to their content that none of their competitors has touched.
While these key differentiators may seem small, they make a big impact when setting these brands apart from the competition.
Once you understand your key differentiator, you need to carry it throughout every channel, medium, and touchpoint.
Steph's key differentiator is being the most transparent content marketer online. Therefore, she's transparent in everything she does. Don't believe us? Every year, Steph self-publishes her goals on her personal site, then tracks them for all to see — that's what we call transparency.
At Growth Machine, we design an entire content strategy plan that speaks to our clients' key differentiators. From there, we write blog posts, meta descriptions, and social media posts that hone in on our clients' respective unique selling proposition.
To win at your key differentiator, you need to stay consistent and continuously search for ways to improve. Steph wrote about this concept in one of her most popular articles, “How To Be Great,” where she argues that consistency is the secret ingredient behind seemingly overnight success stories.
To win at your key differentiator, you must continuously publish content that highlights the uniqueness of your product or service. To do this at Growth Machine, we’ve helped clients grow their websites from zero to 100,000 monthly visitors — with consistency being a key factor in that success. To grow search traffic by such a staggering figure, we take an aggressive approach to content, publishing for a single client as often as six times per week.
Many individuals wrongly believe that it is a mistake to enter a highly-competitive industry. However, as Steph points out, no two companies approach business exactly the same way — which means no one can do it like you can.
By finding your key differentiator, focusing on how you do business (instead of what you produce), you can create a name for yourself in a competitive space. Once you discover what makes you unique, you need to carry those elements throughout your entire content marketing strategy.
If you need help discovering your brand differentiator and developing a style guide and content plan, please contact us to set up a consultation.
There’s no chance Growth Machine would be the company it is today without her.
As marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in the creation hamster wheel — only wanting to create, create, create. But even if you write the most poetic, Pulitzer-worthy piece, no one will read it if they don’t know it exists. That’s where content distribution comes in.