The tightrope of appealing to the polarized masses with a single, all-encompassing marketing message is becoming quite hard to pull off. There are very few institutions in American life (besides maybe Taylor Swift) that are truly ubiquitous today -- not sports, higher education, the Supreme Court, or even beer. Mass appeal is still possible, but there are strong headwinds to this approach -- and even bigger financial consequences for brands that fail at it.
At the same time, the ease and effectiveness of mass media is vanishing. Digital has become pervasive; instead of a few broadcasters catering to the middle, an unlimited number of players are now focusing on smaller subsections of audiences. With the distribution model of linear TV on its last leg, streaming has become the dominant method of accessing television programming (despite its many flaws). Gone are the days when advertisers could simply buy “Sunday Night Football” and “Modern Family” to achieve reach.
The momentum, for better or worse, is toward digital, as more niche media channels cater to smaller and smaller groups. Because new media’s strategy is to win a smaller share of the pie, these groups can be more focused and nimbler in attracting an audience, providing several strategic advantages over legacy media institutions.
With Great Change Comes Great Opportunity
This new paradigm presents a massive opportunity for challenger brands. There is market share to be had for mid-market players who are willing to forego overarching appeal and focus on smaller communities. The antidote is not to launch another broad marketing campaign, but instead to cultivate an ecosystem, a long-term symbiotic partnership within a community. The ecosystem approach avoids the rat race of clamoring for attention through one-off ad campaigns, or trend hopping to the next shiny marketing opportunity that may or may not matter to your consumers.
An ecosystem is a community-centered approach, allowing a brand to express its personality with more passion, hold true to its values, and move at the speed of culture, without having to constantly balance the diverging needs of competing groups. The most successful niche brands are highly authentic in their marketing, creating compelling content through a deep understanding of the needs of the communities they serve.
The New Media Playbook
The demands of the modern media landscape mandate that you diversify your advertising efforts. You must experiment with a greater set of channels and platforms within social media, influencer, streaming TV, streaming audio, content partnerships, event sponsorships, and legacy media outlets. One reason for this is that individual users can block ads in certain environments, or choose not to consume content in others.
In the wake of the well-publicized brand controversies, challenging macroeconomic conditions, and growing geopolitical unrest, I predict that more advertisers will need to adopt a niche playbook to stay relevant and propel growth in 2024. Even among large conglomerates, there will be more of a “house of brands” approach versus a “branded house,” which allows communication strategy to be more flexible and tailored. It also diversifies risk; if one brand slips up and gets caught on the wrong side of public perception, it doesn’t risk the whole house from tumbling down.Finally, 2024 will be a contentious presidential election year, further exasperating the challenge of placing a unifying brand message in the market. When you put it all together, the smart money will be placed on niche marketing efforts that drive smaller, but deeper impact.