Is Niche the New Start Up Route?

The Instagram logo is displayed on a tablet on December 20, 2012 in Paris. Instagram backed down on December 18, 2012 from a
The Instagram logo is displayed on a tablet on December 20, 2012 in Paris. Instagram backed down on December 18, 2012 from a planned policy change that appeared to clear the way for the mobile photo sharing service to sell pictures without compensation, after users cried foul. Changes to the Instagram privacy policy and terms of service set to take effect January 16 had included wording that appeared to allow people's pictures to be used by advertisers at Instagram or Facebook worldwide, royalty-free. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook is old news. Where once you would have rushed to share everything there, today you would be more prone to use Instagram for photos, Pinterest for interests and Kickstarter for project funding. No longer can one social network be everything to everyone.

To be successful today, emerging start-ups must find a niche. They have to solve a very specific consumer need and add tangible value to their customers' lives -- in as social and engaging a fashion as possible.

Take the example of Shareagift. Founded on one specific activity of organising a group gift, the community can have a conversation and exchange comments around the process, before deciding on the gift.

"If you can find the right ointment to scratch a single itch, you find people will apply it to all sorts of other maladies you haven't even thought of yet," says Justine Angelli, its CEO. "Our core proposition was solid and now it has grown, so that consumers are using us in ways we never dreamed out such as for sourcing personal funds, medicinal treatments, you name it," she adds.

On the other end of the spectrum, check out The Contract Hub, which automates contracts for small businesses and individuals. It stores all your contracts in electronic form and reminds you on their renewal date. It even goes to the market to get you the best quotes and helps you switch.

Founded by Kieran Dowling off the back of a personal experience, which saw an utilities contract roll over and cost him money that he could ill afford, it is definitely one of the most practical services around. (Now if they could also pay someone to search my paper filing cabinet and find the relevant contract paperwork to upload, that would really make life simple.)

It struck me that the start-up world is already moving in the direction, which marketers have long known about -- that you need to be laser targeted in your focus.

You need to segment your market, seek out a clear want, and position your brand towards fulfilling that specific need; and do it better than anyone else to make it a success. It seems though that this jump from generic to specific -- like everything else in the tech world -- was achieved at light speed.

Perhaps because in many of these companies, the degrees of separation between the customer driving the need, and the marketer delivering the brand, is minimal. In fact their brand creative marketing people are often on the same table as the product marketing development team, and proactively sourced, user-generated feedback drives both.

Of course one would argue that the most important thing is to innovate. As Inmaculada Martinez, serial entrepreneur and investor remarks, "while some start-ups are diving into the niche vertical, many are coming up with visionary roles which in the big scheme of things is the most important thing to do."

What are your thoughts? Do write in and let me know.

Laxmi Hariharan is a broadcast branding specialist and author, who also mentors start-ups. Reach her @laxmi or at LAXMIwrites