Niche authority. It’s a term used by many in Merch By Amazon, especially large sellers who have mastered a myriad of niches and have the riches to show for it.
Niche authority has mattered since the beginning of MBA and it will matter even more in the future of MBA. To ensure you’re not misinformed, misdirected, or poised to miss out on the opportunities at hand, I want to take some time for a brisk but deep dive into niche authority today.
Niche Authority: What Is It?
First of all, what exactly is niche authority? While I’m sure there’s some wiggle room for accurately defining it, niche authority — in my book — pertains to the mastery of a particular niche by a Merch By Amazon seller as indicated by the depth, diversity, and daily sales of tees within the niche that a seller has comprehensively focused on. It’s about owning a niche or at least being a big player in a niche so that a handsome portion of Amazon sales made within a given niche come from products available in your catalog.
Niche authority, however, is not the same as brand authority. And this is where I see an awful lot of confusion.
Having true niche authority doesn’t simply mean offering a large number of similar tees in a single niche within one brand. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with offering 200 cat-related tshirts under one “kitten apparel” brand of yours. But are there better, bigger, and more bankable ways to establish and cultivate niche authority? I believe there are and I want to address some of those ways in this post.
Now, before going any further, it’s important for me to note that my objective on MBA has always been to sell tshirts, not establish or cultivate a tshirt brand. For those seeking to build a brand, I offer my words of encouragement. I just can’t offer any words of expertise, as my experience is not rooted in label building or making any one brand a preeminent tshirt buying destination. Fortunately for me and others not focused on brand building, you don’t need to be a brand authority to be a niche authority. To be a niche authority, you just have to think and design outside of the conventional ways of thinking about niche authority.
The Path to Niche Authority Runs Through Subniches
One of the biggest mistakes I see among sellers trying to establish niche authority is the excessive amount of time they spend on the main component of their chosen niche. You read that correctly. And I encourage you to read it again. Establishing your portfolio’s niche authority, in my opinion, means more than just beating the same drum.
Put differently, having niche authority means first establishing sub-niche authority.
Let’s take the camping niche, for example. If you want to build niche authority in the camping niche, you will likely have minimal success (if any) in this competitive niche if your offerings are all — or even mostly — generalized camping tshirts with similar styles, messaging, and themes. Whenever I settle on a niche to try to establish niche authority, I look for at least five subniches or angles to focus on as part of my efforts. For camping, these sub-niches or subtle components might pertain to: tents, bugs, cookouts, the weather, sleeping, wild animals, vacations/getaways, etc. Once I establish how I’m going to divvy up my angles and determine how many slots to allocate to each, I move on to crafting messaging. And this is probably where it matters most!
It has taken years of fumbles and foibles to learn that establishing niche authority requires an array of tshirts that strike five distinct messaging themes and/or constructs: (1) Specific (2) Silly (3) Sarcastic (4) Puns (5) Quotes. Sticking with the camping niche, here are some tshirt messaging examples of each suggested theme (these are off the top of my head and not checked for compliance or competition):
SPECIFIC: Nebraska Camping Trip 2019
SILLY: I’ve Got The Biggest Wiener in the Wilderness (roasting hot dogs design)
SARCASTIC: What I Love Most About Camping Are The Bugs, Said No One Ever
PUNS: Never Go Camping on Halloween… Too Many Campires (vampire pun)
QUOTES: If I’m Not Camping, I’m Not a Happy Camper
These five messaging styles have been my most profitable within every niche I’ve sought niche authority in. To be clear, I produce tshirts with each of these messaging approaches for all five of my subniches. So we’re already committed to making at least 25 tshirts based on the strategy advocated here (5 subniches/angles x 5 messaging styles = 25 tshirts).
Errors in Authority
In discovering the effectiveness of messaging/content approaches referenced above, I also discovered two more mistakes that I was making with great frequency that held back the sales and growth potential of my portfolio.
Firstly, messaging constructs and their related designs should have their own brand names. I was previously lumping all designs of diverse messaging into a single brand. Today, I put all of my “silly camping” tshirts in one brand, for example, and all of my “camping puns” in another. Not only does this protect my overall niche footprint from copycats who discover my brand, it also gives me an opportunity to better compartmentalize my work and gain a superior understanding of what messaging/styles are and aren’t resonating with shoppers in this niche.
I do NOT seek to connect the five individual brands in any way. Each, in effect, exists to court a different audience or shopper mindset. It may seem strange that building niche authority would involve building separate brands, but remember that the goal here isn’t brand authority. It’s niche authority. And since your one MBA account stands to benefit from multiple individual brands within a niche, nothing else really matters. Your success may not be obvious to the masses because sales will be split between and among brands, but you have more to gain and less to lose by having more brands with small numbers of sales vs. few brands with a lot of sales.
Secondly, in the old days, all of my designs within a niche had a similar look and style. I would find some fonts I liked and some graphics, and just change the messaging while keeping the design template or color schemes mostly unchanged. To be sure, this can and will work to help you make some sales. But I’ve had better luck gaining traction (and better sales too) by giving each brand within my niche footprint a unique look and overall style. In the camping niche, for instance, my silly camping tshirts wouldn’t resemble in any way the camping quote tshirts in my portfolio. I’m talking different fonts, graphics, imagery placement, messaging tone, etc. Everything is different between and among brands. As long as the casual shopper would never make the connection that the person who made the “camping pun” tshirts is the same person who made the “specific camping” tshirts, you can rest easy knowing that your niche footprint includes adequate appearance diversity.
Closing In On Niche Authority
Now, once you’ve spread your creative wings to produce a litany of designs that are unique in appearance and messaging themes across multiple brands, you’re still not finished. You’ve only just begun. You have five brands (at least) to monitor and cultivate. So far, you’ve merely planted seeds. It’s time to see what grows and, from there, evaluate which will yields a bumper crop or goes bust. Those that succeed will warrant your attention in making more designs in the same messaging/design construct. Those that fail will warrant even more of your attention to re-design and replace.
Building niche authority — a process that requires slowly expanding a robust catalog of subniche-focused designs that encompass messaging and aesthetic diversity — demands a great deal of time and patience. Not only does it take a good long while to cover all of your creative bases within a niche, it should also take a while to figure out which niche or niches you want to try to establish niche authority.
The worst thing you could do is simply rush your choice of a niche to focus on. You can’t merely determine on a whim to pick camping or hunting or sports as your “niche authority” goal. Although it helps if you like the niche or have familiarity with the niche you’re considering focusing on, this is not required to succeed at building niche authority. What is required is a lack of designs/messaging in a niche. If you fill that void on Amazon per the plans outlined above, I’m confident you will have a chance to succeed in spades.
Do you know of a niche where there are few puns or quote-related tees? Are there subniches to your niche that have already yielded sales on Amazon? Can you envision how you would build five unique brands? If you assess all these steps, see opportunity and feel excited about the potential, I would advise you to go for it and see what happens.
Developing and cultivating niche authority is paramount to a successful POD business. Those who read my weekly strategy guide and notice that many niches are consistently among my top selling 10 niches from week to week are essentially recognizing the “authority” I’ve established in those niches. And it’s been the most profitable achievement of mine to date on Merch. Sure, it sounds daunting and it’s a lot of work, but when you hunker down, conquer a niche, and effectively own it, you’re setting yourself and your business up for sustained earnings. And, in the process, you’ll also learn some extremely valuable lessons about subniches and niching-down that will help you see other niches (new and old) in an entirely new light.
Good luck and please let me know if you have any questions!