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When I talk about niche marketing and building a niche I often refer to the products or the feature lists. For instance, local ecommerce hosting would approach the niche by maintaining working relationships with area vendors, media, and the like and that becomes an added feature; by hosting from us and we will give you discounts for advertising with the local papers and TV stations, etc. But niche marketing can also be based on audience.

In this form of niche creation, it’s not your product that is the niche, but how you display it and how you support it. As an example look at Laughing Squid.

Laughing Squid is a Web Host in the normal sense, they offer hosting space, but they offer it in support of the local art community. Their niche service is the promotion of art and culture and the web hosting aspect is but one way they achieve this. It is a very focused market, Laughing Squid probably won’t become a Fortune 500 company, but they have achieved a level of success and not only that but the niche is something that they enjoy.

Therefore, when thinking of niche markets, also think on target audiences. In fact, I would dare to say think of a niche target audience first then find the services that will help them out.

You might say, well I already look at my audience for my niche market so technically I have already done this. You might have but there are a few differences in approach. Niches developed on services start with features then seek an audience. For instance, blog hosting; a web host says they host only blogs then they look at the demographic (normally the marketing department does this when determining who they should place ads with, etc). An audience centric niche starts with the audience, I want to host only the steampunk community, now what features do I offer for that end?

The steps involved are not too much different though it requires far more community participation and a passion for that niche.

Going back to the steampunk example, let’s develop a steampunk hosting service as a practical application. Our web hosting service will be called Steam Powered Hosting. To coincide with future marketing, we will have a “Are You Steam Powered?” badge for web sites who host through us that is an affiliate partnership, i.e. community sites who place it on their site will get a commission for any finalized sales they send our way. The web site will have a professional artist (from the community!) make the themes for it and there will be contests for steampunk theme creations (for wordpress, joomla, or just simple desktop themes).

When targeting an audience its always community, community, community. Next step is to look through all the main steampunk web sites and see what they all need. After looking through I identified that its pretty basic hosting, blogs, small (but detailed) shopping carts, decent hosting packages. The big thing I noticed is the lack of any form of SEO or marketing, in general the bulk of steampunk sites have low traffic. So I we will use basic hosting, but have artists who will work on custom artwork for our customers, and help our customers with branding, SEO, and other forms of marketing. Next thing I would do is get ALL of my employees into the community and discussing steampunk NOT hosting. They would write fan-fiction, develop tutorials on building steam engines, blimps, how to create models and landscapes, talk about the best sites they have seen, etc. When working with a niche community everyone in your company should be passionate about it.

Once established I would offer free hosting to the big players such as Brass Goggles. Only stipulation would be that they have the badge at the bottom (and I would make sure the badge was so cool looking that people wouldn’t want to say no).

With that taken care of, offer community support for your customers. Not just introductions, but if they have a question on how to properly modify a a 1936 Rolls Royce Phantom to be more steampunkish (first complement them on their excellent car choice) then either help them brainstorm or point them in the direction of an expert who can help. Heck the expert might be another customer of yours. Offering a support forum which would handle hosting, but would also include tutorials on a variety of topics. You employees have been writing for other forums and doing community outreach, why not republish or link what they already wrote onto your own forum?

All of this done, you are well on your way to developing a stable, profitable, and enjoyable hosting experience, for your customers and yourself.

This example can be applied in just about any niche too, so if you are looking at changing your niche or you are just starting and want to build a niche, don’t just look at a feature niche market, look at the audience niches as well.

Categories : Marketing
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Mar
25

Hosting in the USA…not

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I recently attended the fifth annual WebhostingDay in Bruehl, Germany and figured out that there is an enormous world of web hosting outside the United States. Not only does the International hosting community exist – it is doing quite well. Thomas Strohe is the creator and organizer of WebhostingDay and he explained how ”The event is sold out with about 2,500 registered top-class representatives from the hosting industry and online registration has been closed on March 6. Also both of the Phantasialand hotels as well as our backup hotel in Bruehl are sold out.” I can attest to the fact that WebhostingDay 2009 was indeed very crowded and active with International hosting professionals from across Europe and the world.

What drew so many visitors this year? Mr. Strohe speculates that, ”The reason might be the large number of famous partner companies who contribute with talks and exhibitions. Moreover, it is the great success of the previous events which made many people come back. And in Europe, there is no other event that unites so many top level executives from such great and important companies. It is an ideal opportunity for people from the hosting sector to come together, to network and to form new business relationships.” Saneetha Naik, the co-founder of outsourced technical support company Bobcares speculated that the reason that many attendees came was to step up their marketing in a difficult selling environment. First time attendee Phil Robinson from UK-based hosting company 34SP.com added, ”The opportunity to network with my peers in the hosting industry and to learn from true experts in the field is what attracted me to WebhostingDay this year. I find the hosting professionals to be willing to help me and the vendors are always open to sharing their latest developments as well.”

Here are a few statistics as relayed by Professor Jens Bocker, University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhein-Sieg in his opening remarks that bear out the popularity of this year’s WebhostingDay event.

* Attendees and exhibitors were present from more than 40 different countries around the world.

* Registered attendance grew from around 1,000 attendees last year to nearly 2,500 attendees n 2009.

* WebhostingDay 2009 featured 50 speakers from a wide range of hosting-related firms and consultancies.

* There were 45 exhibitors in the exhibit hall this year.

The vast majority of attendees that I ran into were from Europe. That is exactly what you would expect, but it still took a bit of adjustment as I have a very ”USA-centric” worldview. Apparently I am not alone in this, mighty search engine Google skews USA as well. Consider the recent logo and link that Google placed onto Google New Zealand to note the arrival of Fall in that hemisphere. Pretty normal, right? Well, not exactly as the term ”Fall” which was used in the logo and the link is used almost exclusively in the USA. The correct term down under is ”Autumn” and yields distinctly different search results. You can see how this was an affront to the local audience and points out Google’s USA-centric worldview by reading this blog post on the subject.

Which brings me back to the subject of this post – Hosting in the USA…not. I will be attending HostingCon this year as well, and expect to see many of my new friends from the International hosting community in attendance. I will not, however, make the mistake of assuming that the way that we do hosting in the USA – be it marketing, operations, plans types, or operating systems – is the exact right fit for international hosting operations.

Categories : Marketing
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Dec
12

Hosting Experts on Hosting

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Website hosting, vps, and dedicated servers are all shifting rapidly. The added uncertainty of the worldwide financial crises has created a new sense of urgency for hosting providers to adapt to this rapid change and thrive. What can we expect in the future for website hosting? Below are the expert opinions of four veterans of the web hosting, vps and managed server industries: Ron and David Dunlap – the esteemed publishers and editors of this blog and www.webhostmagazine.com, Daniel Foster – co-founder of UK vps hosting firm 34SP.com, and William Toll – an industry veteran of Affinity Internet, Intermedia and now with managed dedicated hosting firm Navisite. We asked each expert to render an opinion on the current web hosting state of affairs and to look forward into the future to share their thoughts.

Ron Dunlap: ”We have always believed that as long as the web hosting industry is a vital part of the Internet, the handful of objective web host directories and resource sites like WebHostMagazine.com will be around. Even as web host companies go through the inevitable consolidation of smaller companies getting gobbled up by larger ones, web developers, businesses, and others will be looking at honest web host resource sites like ours to find the best web hosts that meet their needs. We tend to think the industry will shrink in terms of the number of companies, but not necessarily in the number of customers. Back when the Internet bubble burst and the web host industry had some hiccups, we saw the larger web hosting companies buying up smaller web host companies more and more. We believe this will likely happen again. This kind of thing tends to be the norm. Smaller companies do not normally have the resources to handle their services as well as their customer’s needs. Many will be eager to sell their assets (namely their customer base) to larger companies looking for bargains.”

David Dunlap: ”A lot hinges on the size of the host, what their overhead is like, and what type of customers do they have. Times like these will be lucrative to hosts who provide enterprise solutions since many companies will be looking to outsource their hosting IT infrastructure. I would imagine these hosts will be looking to increase their marketing in order to obtain those customers. Conversely, I believe smaller budget hosts will probably decrease their marketing budget in order to stay lean. But as Ron said, this will be a time where larger hosts may be looking to consolidate by absorbing the customers of smaller hosts.”

William Toll: ”NaviSite’s dedicated hosting business will benefit significantly from several trends in 2009. First, we expect an increased interest from small businesses looking for a quality full service managed hosting provider to move to deploy their services and applications with. Small, financially questionable providers are now seen as a risk – while companies with significant experience with the enterprise that provide an affordable and accessible service for the small business will win new business.

Secondly, the capital crunch, and the increasing needs for additional and upgraded CPU power and servers are combining to drive interest in hosted managed dedicated servers and virtual dedicated servers. Windows Server 2008 and open source Linux based applications require new hardware and new licenses. The ”rented” high-performance multi-core CPUs and virtual CPUs and monthly license rental model is far more conducive to today’s finances than the massive capital outlays and consulting services required for onsite upgrades and new deployments.

Third, the interest in hosted applications, SaaS etc., has not only crossed over to the mainstream, but is now a preferable model for ‘utility’ needs like email, office collaboration/file and information sharing and CRM. The increasing popularity of hosted Exchange is the best example. With hosted Exchange businesses of all sizes can stop worrying about SPAM, increasing needs for storage and archiving and multiple mobile platforms for BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile and more.”

Daniel Foster: ”In 2009, I’m sure there will be more buzz about cloud and utility computing. I’m also sure that ”traditional” hosting companies which are good at what they do will continue to thrive. Not everyone has the technical expertise to manage a complex hosting solution so hosts that can provide solutions relevant to their customers should continue to see growth. At 34SP.com, we’re expecting to see our growth continue in 2009, and to be able to offer even better service and solutions to our existing and new customers alike.”

Ron Dunlap: ”We also see more web developers and business trending toward the grid and cloud computing options that are coming out. Each of these provide more security and reliability and as their costs come down, We can see them becoming dominant in more types of hosting services, including reselling and ecommerce.”

This content was written by Derek Vaughan exclusively for WebHostBlog.com.

Categories : Features
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Mar
05

Costco Does Web Hosting too?

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Costco, the multi-billion dollar warehouse merchandise and food warehouse, has added Web Hosting to its product offerings. Their discount Web Hosting services are provided by ValueWeb (an Affinity company).
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Categories : Marketing
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