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The power of being niche in a B2B world

Posted 16.06.2023
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Stick with me on this.

There’s a classic scene in the brilliant film Good Will Hunting.  It’s set in a bar often frequented by Harvard undergrads.  Ben Affleck’s character (Chuckie), a 20-year-old, jack the lad construction worker from South Boston is with his friends having a beer.  He sees a girl he likes and goes over to try it on, pretending he’s from Harvard as part of his patter that’s clearly worked for him before.  His attempt is overheard by a genuine Harvard student, who swaggers over and starts asking Chuckie questions about ‘which class he took’ and what his views are on ‘the evolution of the market economy in the early colonies’ to sabotage his chat up.  At this point, Chuckie’s friend - Will Hunting – a self-taught natural genius, who works as a janitor at MIT, takes over the conversation, challenging the student’s opinion on ‘pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital forming effects of military mobilisation’ etc. The Harvard student skulks away.

From an intellectual perspective, there are times in life where we all wish we could be ‘Will’.  Where you surprise someone with knowledge on a complex topic.  Where you have ideas that flow and you can credibly challenge and provide counsel or a different opinion based on real and personal insight and experience.  Maybe it’s a stretch, but it’s a similar feeling to working in communications in niche, specialist sectors.  In the generalist agency world, I am sure that the majority of practitioners are brilliant, successful communicators and masters of their craft.  But in niche, B2B markets, you need more than that.

It starts with in-depth sector knowledge, which for the generalists immediately acts as a barrier to entry.  This is especially true of the marine and renewable energy markets, which are transforming at such a fast rate, driven by decarbonisation targets and the demand for more sustainability and new sources of energy, as well as the impact of digitalisation.  It’s a multifaceted generational shift, with huge complexities impacting every single stakeholder group; operationally, commercially and from a brand perspective.

As communications professionals, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of this.  When we walk into a meeting with a client, or with potential new business, our conversations don’t start with the principles of brand and reputation.  It’s about a mutual understanding of the industry that we’re both passionate about and the impact of change on their business.  It’s about nuances that they may not know.  It’s about threats and opportunities that we see from other parts of the industry that they might not have considered, because often they have a fairly linear view of the market and don’t have the bandwidth to look up from their busy day jobs.

Our helicopter view of these industries creates the ability to cut to the chase quickly by demonstrating we understand the challenges they face as an organisation, and the context within which their brand operates.  When we’re developing strategies, we immediately understand the mindsets of their key stakeholders, enabling us to unearth and create the most powerful insights and truths.  We know the right channels through which to best influence these stakeholders; what works and what doesn’t. And we can open up our contact networks to create new commercial opportunities, partnerships and collaborations.

Critically, and especially at this time of significant transformation, it's because we can genuinely engage with clients as industry peers from the get-go that we can work as effective partners to develop true purpose; by challenging each other and enjoying tough and honest conversations founded on real knowledge and understanding.  This enables us to deliver the most impactful content and creative that cuts through the noise, truly differentiates, and effectively engages.  Not just from a brand perspective, but also influencing the change our clients want and that the industry needs.

It’s truly consultative.  It’s an empowering feeling.  And it’s the power of being niche in a B2B world.

“How do you like them apples”?!

Author

Nick Blythe

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