5 Things Niche Companies Do Right

February 15th, 2009

In January, I wrote a short article about 5 Things Niche Companies Do Wrong. Things like not planning to suceed, failing to listen to expert advice, etc.

Today, I want to present the other half of that equation, things that niche companies use as natural advantages over larger, clunkier companies. I’ll do my best to present you with some examples as we go along. Bear in mind that every company in anime and manga is a “niche” company. Even the big ones.

Disclaimer – none of these examples were solicited, nor do the companies have the vaguest clue I’m using them as examples. They are giving me nothing for this, so don’t even start.)

5 Things Niche Companies Do Right

Treat Consumers like Friends

One of the undeniable facts about fandoms over general consumer markets is that your consumers are the “fans” of the product. They will act as if they have a personal stake in the product – even if they never support it finanically. If you take a second to think about it, you will have no trouble thinking of an example of someone publicly trashing a movie they haven’t (and won’t) see or a book they have no intention of buying because they felt betrayed by the contents.

As a niche company, we have the right and the power to be friendly with our consumers – to talk to them when they come into the store or up to a table at an event, or get emails from them, and respond personally. If we truly engage with the fans, they will feel even *more* involved with the product and if they like it, they will spread the word.

My best of breed example of this is Comic Fusion, a comic store owned by my friend Stacy. She’s taught me everything I’ve ever needed to know about networking. She isn’t smarmy or market-y. She just talks to people. She’s friendly to her customers and to people she meets. (She’s from California, so she can’t help it, really.) As a result, her clients *LOVE* her store. They bring friends, they bring family, they bring anyone they can drag along with them. And every single person who walks through the door is another new friend.

There was a dreadful article I read recently about ways to capture the young female comic market (Pink and flowery comic boxes? Seriously?) and I thought – all they need to do is have someone like Stacy at the counter. Their store does not have overstuffed chairs (another idiotic suggestion, as if comic store owners want people to sit there and read, not buy) but they have the friendliest, most welcoming customer service EVER. Now that’s how you get and keep customers.

Be flexible

When the standard methods lead to a shrinking market, looking way outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow.

Recently, all the press has been on the young teen female readers, but you know, manga’s already done there. The girls who got into that when they were 12 are 15, 18, 20 now. There’s damn little for them. Stuff for young teen male readers has enough of a “universal” appeal that those titles are doing okay. But who is actually *buying* manga the most right now? Adults. Yes, those of us who are way too old to be reading comics are the ones holding the damn industry afloat.

So, when while every company is scrambling to be the next Twilight, which is already a bad idea, Viz announced a bunch of licences at NY Comic Con that appealed to a more mature readership. And, I am assured, are mostly off-beat and unusual.

This is the company that made the tween/teen manga world explode here with utterly banal, insansely popular Shounen Jump and Shoujo Beat magazines. And now, all of a sudden, they are looking to more mature manga? Why? They had a winning formula! Because young people grow up and if you have a 15 year old, in a few years, that kid is not gonna want to read about 15-year old ninjas anymore. Viz took the leap out of the typical, to the real *next* audience. Adults. I have no doubt at all that it will be successful.

Listen to feedback

Provide instant response to a market change, then let people know you heard them.

Nozomi/Right Stuf announced this crazy idea. They were going to license a completely, utterly, shoujo title. It had no ninjas, or robots, or magical girls or…well…anything really. It was about a bunch of girls who go to a private school, where nothing really happens. (OMG. Lillian is The Talking Heads’ “Heaven!”) You may have heard of the series. lol

But Right Stuf knew that this particular fandom was built by a few key entities who actually encouraged purchase, so they took the risk and licensed Maria-sama ga Miteru. Now here’s the thing. They did a subtitles-only release, because it seemed obvious that the majority of the consumers wanted that over a dub. But when word of the subtitling started to spread, fans expressed concerns about the specific handling of honorifics and titles used in the story. RS was deluged with requests and entreaties for a non-tranlslated handling of the titles. And, they listened. Think about that. They changed the way they did their releases because fans asked politely for a different option. And they let the fans know – immediately. They didn’t keep fans guessing, they jumped right on it and responded with “We heard you! We’ll do it!” I can think of a number of issues that have *not* been addressed after waves of fan mail, but this is the first time I’ve seen an almost instant response of this magnitude.

Reward engagement

Everyone wants to be a hero. I claim my own Okazu blog as best of breed in this. I love the fact that you, my readers, are so engaged. I started the Wish List as a result of *your* emails and comments, asking if you could help support Okazu. And I know that people want to be heros. Well – you are my heros. And so I created the “Okazu Hero” roll and sent you badges to let you and anyone who drops by this blog, that I consider you all my heros.

The result? I can’t keep items on my freaking wishlist! You all are so crazy generous, I have 4 piles of things to read and watch and review here, and 5th building. I didn’t give you a free car – but I let you know you are my heros. And honestly, that’s all anyone ever wants.

Go with your gut

Recently on LinkedIn, I answered a question. The person asked what he should do now that the result of a market feasibility study had proved that his concept wasn’t going to work. In short, I told him that consumers rarely know what they want until after it exists. (Quick, summarize your favorite series, and synopsize it. Now tell someone about it. Would you have wanted it with that description? Probably not.) So, he had two choices – to rethink everything based on a market feasbility study, or to go with his gut. Both would be equally as risky, but only one would make him happy.

ALC Publishing is a boutique publisher, which focuses on bringing doujinshi Yuri artists to the view of the reading audience. We’re not trying to license Strawberry Panic. My gut tells me that when other companies are long gone, we’ll still be around, because we don’t do alot – but we do what *I* love and many people have come to love it as well. That’s all we ever wanted, so…I’m going with my gut.

(And speaking of ALC Publishing – Yuri Monogatari 6 is on sale now on Amazon and the Yuricon Shop!)

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So, there you have it 5 ways that niche companies do the right thing, for the right reasons with the right results.

This essay is once again brought to you by Yurikon LLC – Intelligent Business Promotion.

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One last thing – this was just me having a little fun this AM. Looking for a little Social Marketing humor? Get the Social Marketing is…People! T-shirt from Yurikon. It’s the hottest, newest word in Social Marketing Fashion! :-)

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9 Responses

  1. Sean Gaffney says:

    There is a party. Everyone is there. Everyone leaves at exACTly the same time. :)

  2. The bad in Heaven, plays my favorite song.

    I knew you would notice. :-)

  3. Anonymous says:

    so amazon says Yuri Monogatari 6 is coming out march 11, is that when it’s coming? Or is it just that amazon alway has a release date up even if it’s wrong.

  4. @Anonymous – Chances are, it’ll be about two weeks after that.

  5. Haruchin says:

    I totally understand why it’s a good plan for Viz (or anyone else) to license slightly more off-the-wall adult oriented titles, taking their original teenage audience forward as they age.

    However, let’s not lose sight of where that audience began. The reason the comics industry is in such dire straits right now is because they lost their youth market and are selling to a solely adult audience. It must be possible for a single company to sell titles to both possible audiences, bringing the younger readers through to their older titles, and at the same time gaining more new readers as they hit their teens and are looking for something new to read.

    I really hope manga companies keep an eye on their younger audience, rather than focusing on the readers they *know* they have, and cater to them and them only going forward.

  6. @Haruchin – No, that really isn’t why the manga industry is contracting. Kids grow up. There is no way to hold on to a youth market. The youth titles are strong, but young kids aren’t popping up automatically interested in Naruto. Twilight is the best example – this generation of 12-14 year old girls are back into vampire novels. kids never *bought* most of the manga in the first place – catering to the money makes a lot more sense than catering to kids who, now that times are tight, have less money than ever before.

  7. Abby says:

    As much as I agree with point number two, as someone who recently turned 18 . . . I’m just as interested in reading about 15-year-old ninjas as I was when I was 12. ;]

    Though my reading list has grown more and more peppered with horror titles . . .

  8. I can’t say I really disagree with any of these points, or the previous opposing article as well. Several comic stores in my area have gotten pretty shitty as a result of becoming more “corporate” in some sense, and I don’t really feel as comfortable going there anymore as I used to.

    I think you’re especially right about manga companies needing to appeal to the older audiences. In fact, as I look at my shelf right now, while I still buy some shounen-action titles, an increasing number are becoming more seinen and gekiga oriented, such as MW, Ghosttalker Daydream, and Abandon the Old in Tokyo. Kudos to Dark Horse and Vertical for understanding that we exist.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “…So, when while every company is scrambling to be the next Twilight, which is already a bad idea, Viz announced a bunch of licences at NY Comic Con that appealed to a more mature readership. And, I am assured, are mostly off-beat and unusual.

    “This is the company that made the tween/teen manga world explode here with utterly banal, insansely popular Shounen Jump and Shoujo Beat magazines. And now, all of a sudden, they are looking to more mature manga? Why? They had a winning formula!…”

    Why not? They can do more than one winning formula! :)

    “…Because young people grow up and if you have a 15 year old, in a few years, that kid is not gonna want to read about 15-year old ninjas anymore. Viz took the leap out of the typical, to the real *next* audience. Adults. I have no doubt at all that it will be successful…”

    Yes, I’m already a fan of Ooku and Saturn Apartments (and I Am a Turtle is sweet too even if *that’s* too niche to jump from SigIKKI to print too). :) Now that Tokyopop has dropped its English licenses, I’m hoping Viz will take a look at Suppli too. :)

    “It must be possible for a single company to sell titles to both possible audiences, bringing the younger readers through to their older titles, and at the same time gaining more new readers as they hit their teens and are looking for something new to read.”

    Yes yes yes yes exactly. Penguin, Random House, etc, already prove it’s possible every day. :)

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