Matter to someone or risk mattering to no one…
According to Stanford University, the computational power of AI is doubling every three months, helping to catalyze another transformational scientific revolution. The impact is everywhere, all at once. Equally rapid-fire shifts in cultural behaviors and conditions mandate a move to focused marketing over anything remotely resembling a broad brush. These two fluid developments are evidence of a pace and speed-of-change that are unprecedented and thus requires more vigilance from business decision makers.
Narrowing, specializing, customizing, individual-izing
Dear CEO and CMO – it’s time to identify a priority core customer audience and go all in. The era of mass markets and mass media serving a homogenous population is officially gone forever. To what extent is this reflected now in the business and marketing plan?
Let’s take a brief look at a few recent sea changes impacting the future of marketing and business strategy:
- In 2034 Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under 18. Notably, an increase in life expectancy of just one year adds $38 trillion in annual global GDP. Meantime the birthrate in the U.S. has now fallen below replacement levels.
- Over a recent 10-year period, household wealth of 65 to 75 year-olds increased 54% while the wealth of 25 to 35 year-olds declined by 11%. Gaps are growing.
- The top 10% of American families hold a whopping 69% of total wealth. The bottom half holds only 2.8%.
- Remarkably, the baby boom generation is 75% white. Contrast that number with Gen Z which is 52% white. By 2044, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-white.
- 35% of the U.S. population age 25 to 50 has never married – compared to 9% in 1970. Young people increasingly are deciding not to marry, not to have children, not to own autos and are delaying home ownership. More impact to come.
- The search for deeper meaning and purpose is rising around a frame of values and beliefs. It is replacing the traditional role of religion. Fewer than half of Americans now identify with a church. (Contrast this with the increased concern and interest in socially responsible actions and behaviors on the part of brands and businesses).
- The number of teens who say they see their friends on a regular basis has dropped by 50% since the 1970’s. While 31% of Gen Zers characterize their mental health as bad. Troubling development.
Pervasive uncertainty caused by the Pandemic, war in Ukraine, mass shootings, dramatic climate change impacts, racial tensions and economic gaps widening between haves and have nots, has unleashed a burning desire for the twin anchors of true purpose and deeper meaning. Fear, risk and compromised views of the future are producing a void in search of greater fulfillment.
- To say the least, what matters, motivates and occupies consumer time and attention is rapidly changing. Who will help them?
Never before in the history of modern business and marketing strategy have brands had a greater opportunity to earn a position as consumer coach, guide, mentor, knowledge broker and enabler on their life journey. Filling a vacuum left by declining relevance of institutions and larger social circles. But only if business values and soul are tethered to a higher purpose, mission and belief system that puts the welfare of consumers ahead of self-interest; now table stakes for trust creation.
Dawn of a marketplace populated with subsegments and microsegments
The age of tribal shared values and interests is upon us, driven by technology that helps curate the flow of information, ideas, even community which more closely align with our own world views and lifestyle preferences. In this environment, brands will be more successful by narrowing and focusing their appeal to specific attitudinal segments than attempting to be all things to all people, in service of mass markets that, frankly, no longer exist.
Consider these active lifestyle tribes:
|Sustainability Warriors||Itinerant Travelers||Real & Fantasy Sportsters|
|Culinary Artists||Family Fans||Home Improvers|
|Pet-life Pals||Music Mainliners||Serial Daters|
|Social Activists||Dining-Out Denizens||Tech Nerds|
|Micro media mavens||Outdoor Adventurers||Wellness Wonks|
Everyone is in search of community with like-minded people who share passions and interests, yet so few brands make a concerted, creative effort to doggedly court them with relevant content and experiences.
One glance around the food and beverage marketplace and you’ll notice a teeming landscape of niche brand market specialists who, enabled by the collapsing barriers of gigantic scale that at one time characterized the mass market paradigm, are carving ever more refined and single-minded voices that resonate with specific market subsegments. The call to action for larger CPGs is no less compelling to prune and narrow-in on the most engaged and potentially faithful audiences by casting your lot with the lifestyle clans most likely to believe.
Find brand traction by becoming an enabler
You want your brand to matter to an audience of devoted fans and evangelists. The opportunity to create this level of resonance escalates with strategic decisions to spotlight your voice and efforts as an enabler and educator on their specific lifestyle interests. People believe they are unique individuals, a market of one if you will, in search of brands that matter to their curated worldview and tuned belief system.
What human-relevant purpose should you be mining?
What activities and experiences will draw them in?
What images best express an affiliation with how thy see themselves?
What words will resonate?
What information do they seek to improve themselves?
How can you best mirror their wants and desires?
What stories should you be telling?
How do you cloak your brand in authenticity and genuine (relevant) values?
How can you demonstrate through actions that you care about their welfare?
Planning steps in response to these developments
It can feel counter-intuitive to narrow your voice and story on specific subsegments of engaged consumers. However, this is precisely the requirement to create relevance with consumers who now belong to a unique tribe.
The heavy user, the brand fan, the category evangelist, the knowledgeable player – these individuals offer the greatest chance at mattering. Broad appeals focused on “awareness” goals won’t serve the mattering imperative, and thus your brand can be commoditized over time and bought mostly on price because category options are seen as interchangeable.
Take for example the culinary artist…
There is a cohort of people, both male and female, who find the kitchen to be their favorite place in the home. Emotional connectivity abounds in their devotion to culinary exploration, cooking-as-emotional-outlet with self-esteem derived from tasty outcomes. They like celeb chef interactions in part because of the techniques they observe and their desire to replicate the same sophisticated flavor profiles. They buy higher quality knives.
How can you feed their need for kitchen exploration?
How can you double down to become a source of ideas and training?
What experiences can you arrange to engage their gustatory desires?
What constitutes moments of surprise and delight you enable to gain their faith?
Can you help them relax with foodie vacation ideas?
What new kitchen tech should they know about?
What voices can you bring they respect, love and admire (borrowed equity for your brand, too)?
How can you build a community of sharing and opportunities to showcase their food solutions with peers?
The list here is nearly endless. It constitutes a deep dive into their lives while serving as coach and guide. In doing so you earn their trust and loyalty. Your brand begins to matter to them and becomes integral to how they define themselves. Your brand can become celebrated, talked about and admired.
The path to this level of engagement is paved with self-less appreciation of who they are, manifested now in how you show up in their lives to make a tangible difference.
Don’t you want to do business this way? So much more is going on here than quarterly price promotions and end caps. Within your marketing team should be lifestyle and insight experts who deeply understand your customers’ interests, needs, wants, aspirations and to use that data to inform strategy on how the brand shows up in their day-to-day lives.
- You no longer need to depend on banging people over the head relentlessly with self-promotional messaging they ultimately ignore. Now you’re firing on all of the relevance and resonance cylinders founded on constructing an authentic, true relationship.
This is the future of marketing in a micro-segment world. It’s not about aggregating eyeballs, rather about making certain customer cohorts are the center of your universe — and working backwards from there. To the degree you can inspire people, you earn a place in their lives that helps make your brand irreplaceable. Persuasion isn’t the game. Helping, leading, guiding is the new operating paradigm.
Go narrow. Go all in.
If you find this concept compelling and worth deeper exploration, use this link to start an informal conversation about mapping a better, more focused future for your brand and business.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.