Jigsaw pieces

9781846140426h.jpgI had a moment the other day.  And it was one that, perhaps, started to help all this social media/conversational marketing malarkey make a bit more sense.

There have been three pretty high profile (I hesitate to use the word ‘seminal’) texts over recent years that the web 2.0 crowd has latched onto.  The first one was The Cluetrain Manifesto; the second one The Long Tail.  I have to admit, though I’ve read quite a bit about both of them, I’ve never actually read either (so feel free to discount this post as the ramblings of an ill-informed imbecile).  However, the third one in the list – the cover of which is pictured here – is a book that currently resides upon my bedside table – and a terribly good read it is too.  It’s Microtrends, by Mark J. Penn.

If each were taken in isolation, I can understand how they might be dismissed, particularly by large businesses. 

The Cluetrain Manifesto claimed that all markets are conversations.  But hang on a minute…if we’ve got 100,000 customers, how are we supposed to have a proper, valuable, individual conversation with each of them?  And if we try to have a single conversation with all of them, then that’s not really a conversation, is it?  It’ll just be us telling them what we want them to hear, the same as always.  Let’s ignore that.

The Long Tail asserted that the world of online has given consumers infinite choice, and the ability to seek out entirely personalised and specialised products and services…and that for even the most niche product there’s a big enough global market to make it worthwhile.  But just wait a minute.  We’ve got a broad enough product range already (with at least a dozen different options)…I’m not about to start tailoring my product for every single customer.  Forget that one too.

Then along comes Microtrends.  Here’s the book that delivers the research (or at least examples of it) behind the explosion in niches in the global marketplace.  It contains seventy-odd cases where an apparently tiny trend actually earmarks a significant market.  The examples are primarily from the USA…and a microtrend can mean just 1% of the population.  But in the US, that means more that 3 million people.  And if you understand the microtrend, that market can be yours.

Now, think of these three texts together.  Global markets are exploding into millions of little niches (The Long Tail).  With the right research, you can understand the motivations, values and drivers within each of these niches (Microtrends).  And the market niches are small enough – with such a consistent set of values – that you might, just might, be able to have a valuable conversation with them (The Cluetrain Manifesto).  Now it starts to get interesting.

My mum – who’s 62 years old – bought herself an iPod Nano last year.  She’s not especially techie…she’s very happy with email and ecommerce, but she would be able to set up, say, a POP3 email account.  She absolutely loves her Nano though.  Why?  Because she loves her music.  And she’s not only got the Nano, but she’s got a Bose SoundDock in the lounge and anotherone (yes, another one) in the kitchen.  And she raves about it to all her friends.  Now, how difficult would it be for Apple to start a conversation with a market niche of over-60s women with a bit of cash to burn who love their music?  Not very, I’d have thought – and not that expensive either.  iPod Nana anyone?

That’s what we’re talking about.

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6 thoughts on “Jigsaw pieces

  1. jameswarren says:

    This whole mother and technology/gadget thing is unnerving. My mother has two iPods and a Creative Zen. She’s got a flat screen HD TV and a recordable DVD player, with a larger DVD collection than we have. She has a top of the range PC with a scanner. She’s got a high-bandwidth broadband connection with a wireless router, despite only having a desktop PC (that’s sat next to the phone socket). She always has the latest mobile phone. (She also has an allotment and a dog and is not in any way geeky – she’s just a normal (well, -ish) grandmother). Now this might mean she has far too much disposable income, is sleeping with the man from the technology department in John Lewis or it proves your point – there’s a microtrend.

    Either way, I’ve ordered the book.

  2. Mark says:

    There is, definitely. It’s only the mums though, isn’t it? My dad can barely put the kettle on and he’s Superman to the Kyrptonite of the dishwasher. He thinks iPod is a modern day euphemism replacing the “pony and trap” rhyming slang of his day.

  3. jameswarren says:

    Love it. Next time I need a number two I shall loudly declare “I’m just off up to iTunes to download a podcast.”

    But you’re right. Dad’s are rubbish. (We, of course, will be the exceptions to the rule.)

  4. Jonathan says:

    Surely if the thesis of Micro trends is correct then the rather broad brush man / woman trend is in grave danger of shattering into a billion shards … dishwasher men, ipod androgeny and I am not sure where this will all lead for our children.

  5. Mark says:

    You’re right mate – but it’s already been shattered, hasn’t it? I mean, for instance, you get blokes (heterosexual ones too) genuinely interested in decisions about interior decoration in their home. I myself like to cook. In fact I do most of the cooking in our house. But I still like proper man stuff, like rugby and cars. That’s OK. It’s a stereotype mash-up.

    Will it be confusing for our kids, or incredibly liberating?

    “It’s OK son, these days you can do what ever you like. Mind you, I’m not so sure about the lacey knickers…”

  6. Protagonist says:

    If anything this is something us in the Tech PR and Tech industry really need to take to heart. Fluffy consumer PR teams and their clients have been doing this for ages and its an area where we agency-side can provide serious added value.

    There’s probably even a case for this level of research in B2B tech, looking at the kind of kit needed and used within different verticals. Maybe I’m going a bit too far…

    Oh and I totally agree with the sentiment that Dads are inept, found mine talking to the toaster the other day.

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