In the past, the clear-cut laws of supply and demand essentially guided marketing activity for most brands. However, in today’s complex marketplace, there is an additional layer to take into consideration and that is the role of customer and brand experience.
Successful brands of the future will be those that understand the importance of designing communications and creating experiences that have the ability to single out an individual within the crowd. For the modern consumer, it is these personalised brand experiences that feel the most authentic and that are giving life to the idea of niche being the ‘new mass’.
Let’s examine the five key trends that are driving or contributing to this shift from mass to niche marketing:
Trend #1: Distinctively Different
Brands, as with people, are constantly looking for ways of being different. However, it’s important to remember that differentiation and distinctiveness, although similar, are not the same concept. The former is more outer-directed while the latter is primarily inner-directed. What is interesting is the manner in which certain brands often make the effort to look and sound different from their competitors, but end up looking and sounding the same within their respective product or service categories.
We are, however, increasingly seeing brands not ‘showing and telling’ but actually being: being real and being genuine, thus making them distinct. A good example of this is how The Social Market PTA has been able to create a brand through appealing to a sense of individuality, ironically forming a ‘collective of misfits’ who are distinctive in their differences. The question then becomes: How distinctively different (of a fit within the misfits) is your brand?
The answer to that question lies in how much a brand is perceived to reaffirm individuality and authenticity, rather than simply being a status symbol to be admired. Increasingly, we are seeing that it’s not enough simply to be different for the sake of being different.
Trend #2: Market Uprising
Markets have come a long way since the good old flea market days. They have now added a sense of novelty to everyday shopping: a place for people to relax and enjoy shopping, not as an errand but as an opportunity for a differentiated experience on a lazy Saturday afternoon, complete with a variety of stalls that cater to the‘woke’ crowd of individuals right through to families.
From the streets of Soweto, we see the likes of The Locrate Market – to the Northern Suburbs with the Fourways Farmer’s Market. Across the spectrum, there is a rise in the accessibility of markets, contributing to the rise in niche market goods becoming the new designer items.
The reality is that established brands aren’t always openly welcomed in these markets. In many ways, they simply don’t fit within this context. So is it even worth investing in as an established player? The answer is about plugging in as enabler brands – in other words, taking the opportunity for sellers at these markets to form partnerships with the Snapscans of this world. It is not a numbers game but one of relevance to the cause.
Trend #3: Boutique Experience
For years, the appeal of boutique stores has been their uniqueness in style for a particular individual who knows the right corners. Recently, established brands are finding ways of servicing this specialised clientele, not only with their offerings, but also through brand extensions. It is about creating the opposite of big brand status: catering for specific markets and consumers – that is, being niche on a larger scale.
We see this with the rolling out of the Mr. Price Pop-Up Shops, where a different treatment is used to create the boutique experience of an otherwise ‘mass’ brand. The key learning here is about flexibility: the flexibility that allows big brands to be nimble enough to ‘denounce the corporate identity (CI)’ while still staying true to the brand’s essence.
Trend #4: Fast Casual
Where fast food is synonymous with affordability and reduced quality, what restaurants such as Rocomamas have been able to create is the option of affordable convenience with a trendy dining experience. Fast food dining speaks to where convenience and quality meet.
The appeal of being able to customise according to an individual’s desire is what makes this a unique offering, which is why we are likely to see brands expanding their offerings to present the convenience and/or the luxury of choice to dine or eat-on-the-go. Knowing this, brands constantly need to relook how they can strategically deliver to create these enchanting contradictions, with a broader outlook on how this will create an impact on shaping the brands of the future.
Trend #5: The Creative Stop Shop
In the creative and advertising space, we are seeing agencies being formed for the sole purpose of pursuing and preserving creativity at its best. What makes ‘creative quick stop’ agencies unique is that they are purely creative and art-led, they fully immerse themselves within the market and they are collaborative by nature.
Large brands that would traditionally give business to large agencies are now giving pieces of work to these shops due to their personal touch and deep understanding of the target market. The likes of I See A Different You serve as a prime example of how these shops are perfectly poised to capture a unique, non-conventional perspective of the market that still has mass appeal. In other words, these smaller stop shops have the ability to tell stories from a specific point of view that still resonates with a broader audience. It’s a matter of collaboration and being fearless enough to plug into these agencies, both from a creative inspiration and insight-gathering perspective.
Whether it’s emerging or established brands, the trends we have unpacked in this article effectively highlight the importance of building and extending by staying authentic to the brand essence, while remaining relevant to the changing times. The reality of this is that it allows brands to be agile enough to be able to ‘plug and play’ in different markets and contexts without constantly having to make significant business changes and or launch generic (and often irrelevant) advertising campaigns as a brand building exercise. The brands of the future will be those who figure out, in time, how to be their own niche within the masses.
Image: Mr Price pop up shop
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