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From Mass to niche: The changing paradigm

A smart phone specially targeted at photography lovers, a pro skin trimmer for stubble lovers, a cola for dieters, a tour package for latte and laptop generation, a healthy fruit based option for the breed, ready to deviate from synthetic drinks, A thrilling experience created for expansive mid-lifers without actually labelling them as old, or a men’s expert range of beauty cosmetics that boasts of fighting the five signs of male skin fatigue.  Phew!!! What appeared to be an unimaginable uphill task and a distant dream couple of years back, finally seems to be an accessible and fathomable reality for the Indian consumer.

Segmentation has always been there as an integral part of a brand’s appeal. But now, the unstoppable marketer does not shy away from breaking the mass marketing stereotypes and cater to newer bolder and challenging consumer niches.
Earlier, when marketers did not wish to enter the mass market, they tried to remain beyond competitors’ reach, by catering to a more focused group of customers, even if this was a much smaller segment, who would stick with them. This was the mainstream concept of niche marketing. Remember magazines like Reader’s Digest and toothpastes like Mentadent G (bleeding gums), Sensodyne
(sensitivity) or for that matter even Vicco Vajradanti (Ayurvedic Herbal Dental cream).

Conventionally, marketers have duly followed the basic principle of opting for tried and tested groups or sections of customers that looked most prospective, acquiescent and hence open to the offerings of the firm. It was more of a formulaic approach. Hence, when it came to marketing a premium pen like Parker, the target invariably was the high-income executive as against a Reynolds pen, was for masses. While beauty products the target almost invariably was teenage girls and young women.


I still remember how our marketing Prof would come up with so many examples when it came to demographic, behavioural and psychographic segmentation, Colgate, Gillette, Titan , Coke, Cadburys and more. However when it came to the Niche or Focussed segmentation we used to get stuck up with a limited Theromoseal in the oral care category and maybe a Merc in the automobile category.
However, it was only later when I graduated to be a Prof and began my research in Brand and consumer did I realize that things are changing for the better and there are enough signs of the niche beginning to find its equitable space in almost every sector.

I soon learnt to discover the niche within the mass. It was a great discovery where I found that Saint Gobain was making waves in the specialized Fragmented glass category, Tanishque was catering to the Purity of Gold, Crocs clogs in footwear aimed at the glorified home-wear or travel wear and All in the ready to wear category created a huge market out of the niche Plus size apparel segment.  Harley Davidson , which in my opinion was born with a niche. A very young urban city cruiser image. Exclusive. ‘American by Birth, Rebel by choice’.  Justified.
In the changed milieu when I talk about segmentation I enjoy discussing Surf excel that entered a very broad detergent category and pioneered the stain remover space, fighting it out effectively through influencing the influencer concept in the ‘Daag Achche hain campaign’ or Kelloggs special K  tapped the fitness conscious women with the concept of weight management , Womens Horlicks, that focussed on young executive women balancing between work and home, Saffola safflower oil, targeted at heart awareness and cholesterol control as against taste and flavour.

But in this entire bunch, my favourite segmentation strategy continues to be that of Blackberry. It took on apple which was higher on the price side by catering to the Feature based corporate segment offering such unique attributes like fast mail, text, browsing and an exclusive fast and secure BB Pin to Pin messaging. That they were unable to sustain, is a different tale altogether but the segment chosen was indeed unique and in a different league.

When I took up as a faculty of Marketing at SITM, I got into researching the fundamental aspects of marketing ( STP being a favourite) in the ICT space and one interesting area that I hit upon was, gender influence, soft attributes and emotional decision making. Functionally with all the major players at par so far as rational attributes are concerned aspects like accessibility & quality of service, Value added services, technology and unique features no longer seemed to support differentiation in an already cluttered telecom market. As experts see it functional needs can be visibly voiced and being strong indicators of consumer choice, they are apparently generic, and therefore hard to own by a brand. (Bob Clark 2011).

Therefore can Soft attributes play a key role in influencing gender?  The research yielded that the use of right soft attributes can definitely lure consumers, drive decisions, help retain the TG & increase stickiness. Hence the segments can be effectively targeted based on their gender by using specific emotions as an important plank.
The e-commerce market is rapidly growing in terms of GMV leading to heavy competition, where similarity in offerings has led to complexities in segmentation hence going forward gender based segmentation by understanding their decision making while making online purchases can lend a new dimension to e commerce practitioners to design their strategies. These were findings of another research conducted by me with my students Naresh Hegde and Mithun Jacob.

When I was penning this blog I recalled an innovative initiative relevant for this piece, thought of sharing it
“Mr, Mrs, Mx or Misc? Banking giant HSBC introduces 10 Trans- customer gender neutral titles”

Summing up, the market today has opened up and so has the customer.A product with mass appeal no longer works for the techno-savvy Indian customers. They go all out and seek specific products fitting into their scheme of things and this clearly is an indication of the fact that for confronting competition and retaining the customer, niche seems to have become an all popular attractive proposition.

All my wonderful readers who are reading my thoughts can engage in this process by adding your thoughts, in terms of themes to be covered or even defending or opposing a point which has been dealt with in my blog.

Watch out for this space every Wednesday morning & get ready to be Brand stormed!!!



-Dr. Tripti Dhote

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