No niche is ever too crowded for fresh thinking
Anyone who says "there's too many podcasts," "too many tech blogs," or too much of anything misunderstands the internet/what opportunity now looks like
It’s daunting to step back and look at the sheer number of content-based sites, podcasts, YouTubers, TikToks, Substacks, etc that cover the spectrum of interests on the planet. For all intents and purposes, it’s infinite (and has been essentially that for some time now). For some, I know this can make it feel like it is too late to join – that others are so far ahead there is no way they’ll catch up. It may appear this way on the surface, but looks can be deceiving and what actually has been happening is fascinating. The truth is, there is not a single niche that’s too crowded for fresh thinking. Larger players have no defense against something that comes out of left field.
Take Joe Rogan for ex: he’s obliterating CNN Primetime, a polished show produced by a team following a tight process.
Avg viewers/show: CNN Primetime: 810,000
Joe Rogan: 11,000,000
What do you think Joe is focused on? Great guests and being creative. That’s it. He doesn’t have millions of dollars for production of each show or a huge team of writers. He’s a personality who is consistent and genuine and his audience loves him for it. The entire world has been flipped on its head.
Years ago in the early days of blogging, my friend Skellie and I both spent a lot of time analyzing the winners and discussing similarities. This was in the early 2000s but one of her quotes from a discussion stuck with me because it’s only become more true:
“If you think about the bloggers and thought-leaders currently making waves at the moment–the people everyone is currently talking about–you’ll notice that they are unashamedly individual and unashamedly confident. You have to be. Believing that people will listen to and find value in what you really want to say requires that.”
What’s happened now, to a good extent (but not completely) because of social, is that businesses or individuals with a unique vantage point, fresh thinking and willing to be themselves, relentlessly, are the new winners, as gatekeepers have been defanged and captive audiences freed. Now, the power of fusing fresh thinking with strong branding and a bit of marketing strategy in open networks is just beginning to be tapped. While at face value it may appear easier to win over less popular/developed niches - certainly a strategy - that isn’t a prerequisite for creating a white-hot brand online: personal, media, e-commerce, an obscure b2b company or otherwise.
Certainly, established players have advantages such as oceans of information feeding the search engines and large subscriber bases sharing their content. But, what they also have is more of the same, they can’t turn their battleship like you can your cruiser – and if there’s one thing we always love to stumble upon, it’s something fresh. If you’re new to digital publishing – for business or just to share ideas – this is a path to follow. To win, you must find an inroad to tap into social as core part of your growth strategy through fresh thinking. People crave it. If you can deliver on it, you’ll reap the rewards.
Some actionable ideas that might help some of you follow, especially those just getting started or frustrated with lack of traction so far. Note I am not going to go through strategies on things like how to activate specific tribes of people with today’s post. That one is super potent now and many are using it to great effect, I’ll do a separate story on that later. But before you can run you have to crawl, so let’s go through some basics on ensuring your work is seen as fresh/novel, and try to set you up to actually have a recurring audience…
Share specific stories: the more obscure, the better
Let the larger players have the obvious and banal stories. When they’re covered and then re-covered on 100′s of other sites, they aren’t interesting (if they even were in the first place). So, skip the big stories, you probably can’t break them before the big players and information junkies anyway, it’s not worth trying to be first (you can actually be last and still win but you have to have a take no one else has thought of). Anyway, it’s so much easier to instead tell the not-so-obvious, but equally compelling stories that otherwise would slip through the cracks. The world has an endless supply of them, and in fact the vast majority of stories will never be told. You have infinite opportunity here, all just a DM away.
Become an essential part of your sector’s daily zeitgeist
We all crave narrative, and all you really need to do to be part of the zeitgeist is deliver your version of it, in a way no one else is doing. If you can do this you will go from 0 to “must-read” fast. If you can deliver on it. This takes a lot of work but is certainly doable. A great recent example is the Substack called Doomberg which has fast become an absolute must read for the entire finance sector (subscribe here if you haven’t yet). Their posts are incisive and compelling in a way that is different from others in the category (some have described it as ‘Zero Hedge for smart people’). It’s such an outstanding case study and there are many visible proxies of success: millions of readers, hockey stick subscriber growth, their Twitter account which was only just created last year already has >75K followers, all without doing much but publishing unique stories told with a fresh voice. They’re not writing 30 Tweet threads on self-help tips like so many are using as a playbook, not because it’s silly (it usually is quite silly) but because that would make them appear common, pedestrian and counter-intuitively harder to grow. I’ll go into that more in another thread on social media measurement strategy later and why those viral threads aren’t accomplishing what anyone thinks they are.
Stay out of the daily news copy-pastas
Fresh thinking means staying away from the daily echo chamber consensus as smaller players are in most cases ignored/glanced over. The reason being, you can get that information from a ‘more trusted’ site, and people are hyper-conscious of the “brands” they link to in social. What I mean here is there’s 0 risk for a social user to link a WSJ on some big breaking news story, but linking Joe’s blog with the exact same news will almost never get that same link from a highly trusted individual (maybe they think there’s a risk the site might go down or writer could edit the post to say something else - many more examples here, you might think this sounds paranoid but it’s fairly logical if you’ve been online long enough, plus people deeply care about their reputations). But the major point is this is basically like selling a perceived lower quality commodity at the same price (WSJ is illustrious, who TF is Joe’s blog?).
Give a voice to things others are thinking, but afraid to speak on
This goes along with confidence, but with the addendum that you are specifically vocalizing a shared thought that exists in the minds of others they either keep quietly or never thought to express, or was not possible to say without inciting an undesired response. I am not talking about trolling or shitposting: what you need to do is articulate ideas for a group of people interested in supporting the idea, but unable, uncomfortable or unwilling to say it themselves. A great example of this is Michael Pollan writing his fantastic book: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Since covered by Pollan, an adult in the room with a trusted reputation, many now feel much safer having discussions about this topic publicly (everyone against legalized psychedelics is on the wrong side of history, I am personally very happy this conversation is now happening and we’re normalizing a class of drug which is a potent, perhaps the most potent mental therapeutic). It is not only a path to success, but a positive for the world to set ideas that are stirring in the minds of others (consciously or otherwise) free.
Create an original series that only you/your brand could do
Many larger sites can’t/won’t do series of posts because they move content so fast their readers just wouldn’t have time to absorb them properly. Go deeper into specific subjects in your niche in an original, catchy, or useful series that you take your time to carefully flush out over longer periods. Despite their current troubles (totally separate issue) Netflix did this through releasing entire seasons at once, and basically tapped in to the advantage of what can be done digitally. It’s analog thinking to believe things must be contained to the 30 minute sitcom which must stand alone. That world is dead/dying.
Develop your own memorable content archetypes
Create a content archetype that is all your own - it’s actually not that difficult and really does a good job helping you stand out. It can be something as simple as using specific images to help reinforce your words, a way you format certain types of videos/posts/graphics, etc. A quick example – go check out Not Boring by the always clever and creative Packy McCormick. He has a fun content archetype he applies to all if not the vast majority of his posts where he makes low-fi MS paint-esque drawings such as the below to get his points (both serious and comical) across.
Of course, his writing is fantastic as well, but the point is he is going the extra effort to also have some fun with his storytelling and do so in a way that is authentic and his own. Doing this isn’t the type of thing any media company would come up with in a brainstorm session. It’s too authentic and scrappy. But scrappy on the web is a good thing. Worth it to find your own stylistic elements that resonate and regularly work them into your routine, and not every asset you create needs to follow it, but if you find a formula that works and is authentically you, with it.
Set content treadmill speed from max setting to something that won’t kill you
Many larger brands outsource their content with the strategy of getting as much up as possible. They were conditioned to do that because of being trained for a different world than we now live in. Ultimately for taking the ‘more is more’ approach, their site and brand quality suffer, and visitors eventually begin to gloss over the material and disengage. If you are a fresh thinking individual or brand, and can continuously bring style to your work, you’ll always be more interesting, sticky, sharable and relevant than the old guard sites that focus on speed and being first to market. Stick with it, and you’ll leech audiences from them over time. Play the game you can win.
So, don’t publish more than you can without sacrificing quality. The most popular YouTuber, Mr. Beast publishes just a few videos a month (the production quality of course is very high and video is far more work than words, but the point is you don’t need to do more, you need to do better). Always bias to less if you have to, just make each idea meet your standard of quality, which must be extremely high. This is critical as you are the sum parts of what you create, and if you only publish bangers or at least consistently great things, you’re conditioning your audience to come back. More isn’t necessarily better if fresh thinking is your strategy – you want to make your site known for signal. Note the reason there’s such a push to publish more is a throwback to the SEO days when there was a goldrush to milk easy search traffic. It’s no longer easy, and I think the days of those games are over anyway.
Create for yourself and set a bar of: if you wouldn’t be excited about it personally, it’s not good enough
At the end of the day, if you’re creating for intrinsic reasons, you’re going to connect with at least some audience at a deeper level than those simply trying to please the masses or pull pageviews for ad revenue. Write because you’re interested in what you’re saying and you can’t lose. Unless you’re someone who enjoys consuming boring prose, in which case there are likely better jobs for you (technical writing for ex pays very well, it’s a great field, there is absolutely no shame in that kind of technically proficient work if that is your personality).
Consume as much material by people outside of your sector as inside
You’ll uncover fresh ideas and analogies that translate to your sector others have never considered. Interesting ideas always happen at the intersections. What you create is inspired to a good degree by what you spend time with – if you’re consuming the same source material as everyone else, don’t be surprised if you end up sounding just like everyone else.
Never be afraid to bring style/character to your work: be weirdly you (the world, school, jobs, all work very hard to train weirdness out of you, when it might now be your most valuable trait).
I’ve seen time and time again hard work combined with fresh thinking in overcrowded niches can cut through the clutter fast, never underestimate the power of newcomers who bring something to the table that isn’t easily duplicated. If you’re new to digital publishing for business or otherwise, keep this strategy in your pocket – as the world gets busier, its value only continues to go up, as it’s very difficult, in many cases impossible to duplicate. After all, there is only one of you - and no one can copy that.