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.