Smokers welcome – the benefits of appealing to niche audiences

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Some years ago I remember seeing an advert in the local Yellow Pages for an airport taxi service that proudly stated “smokers welcome.”

This seemed at first glance like a reckless move. Surely many potential customers would be put off by the idea of sitting in a car that stank of smoke for an hour or so?

But on reflection it was quite a clever (if unhealthy) marketing strategy.

Because while some people would be put off, many others – perhaps the majority at the time – would have been largely indifferent. Smoking in pubs was still legal at the time. Non-smokers tolerated it for the most part.

The real genius of the “smokers welcome” message was that this would hold enormous appeal for a subset of customers that – all things being equal – would not hesitate to book such a service and would likely be loyal customers for life.

When else do smokers want a cigarette more than before or after a flight?

Appealing to niche audiences is a smart move for many businesses, and is almost always preferable to a vague appeal to an imagined mainstream.

This is why canny food vendors have started to take dietary preferences and allergies way more seriously.

Food delivery service Deliveroo found that 15,000 restaurants across the UK added plant-based dishes to their standard menus last year.

And it is little wonder when YouGov estimates 2-3% of the UK population is now vegan and 5-7% are vegetarian. These are big numbers – especially when you consider the influence all of these folk have on friends and family about where to eat.

Offering a few token “veggie” dishes is no longer enough.

To attract customers that require vegan, vegetarian, dairy or gluten-free options means providing dishes that are of equivalent variety and quality to those available to their peers.

Shrewd bar owners are taking the same approach with non-alcoholic drinks, which are presented not as an after-thought but as a core part of the offering.

Now that a sizeable minority of people out socialising are not drinking on any given night it is vital for the bottom line that their needs are met, and a glass of Pepsi Max will not cut it.

But perhaps no better example of a business that thrives by catering to niche audiences is Netflix.

With thousands of shows across countless genres every user can dive into niche viewing experience of their very own.

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette, Lancashire Post and other titles. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.

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