Why niche? Why now? Look across the financial terrain that we are facing in our nation. Experts are reporting that if it's not a full-blown recession on the horizon, we are at least in the midst of a stagflation. Recently, I spoke at the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association's annual conference (COEX) for chain restaurants and the manufacturers that provide them with product. Experts from agriculture to economy stood up and painted a dire picture of what the next year holds for their industries. One person announced that the rising price of corn is going to make your cereal cost $27 (slightly exaggerated). Another person talked about the problems with the construction industry and the result for consumer packaged goods. Others said that sustainability will be a huge financial driver. So many voices and opinions about our economic situation and no solutions other than batten down the hatches.
In the same way the economy is changing, consumers are shifting. People are refusing to be categorized by current marketing standards. Boomers spend serious time in web 2.0 applications, younger people donate more of themselves to the public good, and the upcoming election is as polarizing across age and gender as any in history. Between the 240 channels we have access to through television, the Internet, XM, Sirius, HD Radio, movies, and chat applications, trying to find a commonality amongst a major target is next to insane. So why try to place a lot of people into one lump sum?
Marketing types hate little groups. I would be surprised to find one CMO who is willing to be affiliated with any group smaller than the NRA in their personal lives. Snobs that we are, we downplay the power of the passionate few as "fringe." We tend to think about consumers as a caste system, easily categorized and monitored. We are wrong. The main issue we refuse to look at today is the volatility of the consumer landscape. Long-term planning with mass appeal is not a prime directive. Where will our target consumer land in the next 12 months? We should be aiming at the future majority: those people with emotional connections to a particular behavior that we can raise up to be our core evangelists.
Speed is the second issue we should truly investigate. If it takes you two years to launch a product, unless that product is an "event changer," it's too slow. Unless your premise is way out in front, it's already too late. Watching emerging consumers very closely will give you powerful indications of where they want to be in the near future with your brand in mind. Always watching and evaluating your position as it relates to the changing face of the niche means you will be ready to adapt to their needs and deliver a position that they could find irresistible. Making a way for the future means giving people what they really want, not necessarily what you have on hand. Moving quickly, intuitively, and definitively toward a potential polarizing product or position makes these niche dwellers feel as if you had them specifically in mind when you created the widget.
Giving options that speak to the various groups doesn't mean that you will be left out of the mainstream fray; it allows you to present yourself to consumers as authentic and genuine. Run quickly to the edge of tomorrow's consumers and drive your innovation team and marketing efforts fully to keep the heart of the niche group in mind. Remember, everything big today began as something tiny yesterday.
Andy Ford is the chief insights officer and wavemaster for CultureWaves, a leading marketing insights tool that turns consumer behavioral patterns into actionable insights that are fresher and faster than any other resource. For more information, please go to culturewav.es .