Niche marketing has become all the rage in the indie film/micro-budget community, and for good reason. It offers a viable path forward for true DIY artists and entrepreneurs aiming to make a living with their creative work.
The core principle behind “niching down” is quite simple: Marketing your movie to a specific, targetable audience can be far more cost effective and lucrative than attempting to market to a more generalized audience.
Unlike major film studios with marketing budgets in the tens (or sometimes hundreds) of millions of dollars per film, most indie features have little or no marketing money to work with. Certainly nowhere near enough to compete on the scale of the studios or larger independents.
It’s no wonder then, why indie films constantly fail to reach audiences or turn a profit when using legacy tactics and strategies.
Trying to market a no-budget feature with unknown actors to the same audience as the next studio-backed comic book movie makes no sense. The big players have more money and will win every time.
Working within a niche however, can provide a solution to this issue… At least in theory, because niche audiences respond to relevancy above all else.
If you’ve made a movie about a highly specific topic – let’s say gaming in the 1980’s – it will almost certainly appeal to a small, but highly responsive group.
Through social media advertising, organic content creation and other means, you could easily reach this group for little or no money. And they will be very likely to rent or purchase your film (compared to the average movie goer), since the topic is so relevant to them, and relatively untapped.
I touch on this topic at some length in my Micro-Budget Feature Filmmaking Masterclass, available here for those interested.
Alex Ferrari of Indie Film Hustle also explores this subject wonderfully in his book Rise Of The Filmtrepreneur, which you can check out here. And don’t forget Rob Hardy’s excellent piece on finding the perfect niche for your film on Filmmaker Freedom.
In a nutshell though, I see the benefit of niche marketing for filmmakers as two-fold:
- It keeps advertising costs to a bare minimum
- Targeted buyers are more likely to purchase initially, and are more likely to remain customers over the long term
In theory, a filmmaker could curate an audience around a specific topic or shared interest, and not only market one movie to them, but multiple films over time.
This hypothetical filmmaker could also sell ancillary products to that same audience. While the film itself may generate some revenue in sales and rentals, far more may be generated by selling t-shirts, games, live event experiences, or virtually anything else relevant to their interests.
Oddly enough, this is the model many studios today use too – Action figures and lunch boxes can generate a lot more money than movie tickets. The difference only lies in how they market, since the larger players are targeting a wide audience and release.
Let’s consider some numbers as they relate to turning a profit via more traditional means with a hypothetical $50K feature.
Assuming a rental price of $2.99, at $50K micro-budget film would need to be rented 16,722 times just to break even (not even including transaction fees).
Conversion rates (meaning the percent of people exposed to the film who actually buy it) may be 1% – 2% or lower, meaning the film needs to be advertised to upwards of 1,000,000 people in order to even have a chance of securing the 16,722 rentals needed to break even.
That’s a very tall order. Reaching a million people can be incredibly costly and that cost will inevitably eat into whatever profit may have existed.
The niche model solves this issue (in theory) by requiring fewer sales and reducing advertising costs.
Rather than a 1% – 2% conversion rate, a niche audience may convert at 6% – 7% (as an example), and many of those buyers are going to pay more than $2.99. The average purchase may be closer to $20, when you factor in ancillary products and other unique offerings specific to the niche.
With a $20 average order, only 2500 people need to make purchases in order to break even.
At a 6% conversion rate, just 41,667 people need to be advertised to in order to break even on a $20 average purchase order. Compared to the 1,000,000 in the previous scenario, that’s a walk in the park.
It should go without saying though, that every movie is different, and not every niche will perform equally. Making and selling a film is always a gamble, and there is no magic bullet solution.
But still, niche marketing has proved to be an effective tactic not only for filmmakers, but other artists, creatives and craftspeople in different industries too.
Why then, aren’t more filmmakers jumping on the train?
Despite the soundness and popularity of the business model, the majority of indie filmmakers today have yet to take this path… Or at least that’s how it appears from my vantage point.
And I believe that is the case for this reason:
The niche model is designed with profit in mind first and foremost, but for some filmmakers other motives take precedence.
Certainly, we all would love for our films to generate revenue and help us pay the bills. But on a DIY/micro-budget level, the primary goal to make a movie is rarely to make money.
For many, the #1 goal is to have a solid showpiece that can further their careers in one of several ways.
Forging relationships with other filmmakers, landing representation, gaining festival accolades, building a solid body of work and simply learning the craft are all equally powerful motivators for filmmakers, just for starters.
In so many instances, these reasons are the driving force behind micro-budget films, not a desire for profit.
And for filmmakers in this camp, placing too much of an emphasis on profitability early on may be counter intuitive.
It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to turn a profit with any film, even when employing smart tactics like the niche model. Everything from building an audience to running advertisements, launching products to holding screening events, can quickly turn into a full time job.
It’s a very worthwhile tradeoff for business-minded filmmakers who are comfortable working within these parameters, but not all filmmakers are wired that way.
Some filmmakers just don’t want to dedicate the majority of their time to tasks outside of filmmaking.
While some could argue those filmmakers are less driven or unmotivated, I would say they are motivated in other ways, driven by different things.
A filmmaker who is laser focused on becoming the best artist they can be, may not respond to the idea of spending loads of time on sales, marketing and logistics. Not because they are lazy, but because it will eat into time spent writing, directing, editing and becoming a greater artist.
Films that have generated $0 in profit have gone on to launch careers for the directors behind them based on creative merit alone, so clearly profit isn’t the only metric of success.
A great story, well told is an incredibly powerful tool, regardless of whether its easily marketable as a product. But executing that type of strong creative vision means tripling down on the time you spend on your craft and artistry, not necessarily dedicating yourself to sales and marketing.
In reality, most films are a hybrid of some sort, and things are rarely so black and white.
A niche-driven film can obviously still open the door for representation, festivals or financing – even if those weren’t the primary goals from the get-go. By the same token a film driven entirely by creative motives can still make money, even if profitably was never a primary focus.
Every film is capable of generating a multitude of derivatives – not just in terms of revenue, but intangibles as well. That’s part of the fun of making a movie, the possibilities are truly endless with what you can do with it as a finished product.
All that said, I still believe deeply that you should always have a single priority that drives every decision you make with your film. It doesn’t matter it’s profit, creative exploration or anything else for that matter, you need to identify that singular priority at the onset of your process.
Only by knowing with certainty what your “one thing” is, can you make choices at each step that are consistent with that priority, and therefore enhance your odds of success.
Whatever your top priority may be, it should be baked into the DNA of your decision marking from day one. It should drive every choice you make both on set and off, and serve as a guiding light as you navigate each phase of the process.
For some, that priority will be profitability and sustainability as a business above all else. In those cases, niche marketing is a path very much worth exploring.
For others, priorities will lie elsewhere and a different strategy may be better suited. But that’s for each of us to decide indpendently.
There are never any guarantees of success, but if you make choices that are aligned with your greatest values, you will always win.
What are your thoughts? Is niche marketing something that appeals to you as a filmmaker? Why or why not?