Whole Foods

In just about every market, there exists many micro-customer segments that the competition has likely ignored. Crafting a different marketing narrative when you tell your story can attract new customers to your offering that your competition has overlooked.

Did you know that most people who shop at gourmet stores such as Whole Foods don’t buy their products because they taste better or because they are healthier alternatives? Sure, they believe that they are making better choices and that is the point. They shop there because it makes them feel good about themselves and their decisions. Their internal narrative or story that marketers have sold them and they have bought into says buying food from stores like Whole Foods is better for them. In the end, it does not really matter if it tastes better or is better for you. All that matters are the perception that the buyer has about the product.

Additionally, shopping at a store like Whole Foods also affects how we might be perceived by other people who know we shop there. Does shopping at Whole Foods with its myriad of off-brand choices make us look like a more informed shopper, and therefore commands greater respect from our peers and make us look like a nutritional maven?

It is all about internal and external perceptions formed by the marketing narrative that we as consumers have been convinced are true by marketers, and we buy into, which becomes part of our worldview.

Sometimes finding an uncontested market or blue ocean for your offering is not about finding a unique value proposition (UVP), but more about telling a different story to people with a different worldview. Small business owners can frequently find new micro-customer segments in an existing market that their larger competitors often ignore.

When you think about ads for beer, you will probably agree that the marketing narrative is highly tilted toward male beer drinkers. Beer ads have, for the most part, either objectified women as sex symbols attracted to beer-drinking men or disregarded women entirely. Marketers seemed to be too busy trying to appeal to a male audience who consistently drink beer by the case to worry about anyone else. Ads like the one that features Jonathan Goldsmith, the “most interesting man in the world” featured in the Dos Equis beer commercials, comes to mind.

According to the American’s Beer Distributors report on “The Economics and Demographics That Drive the US Beer Industry”, males on average consume 70% of the beer sold in the US. Moreover, the competition for male beer drinkers is highly competitive. Major beer companies all seem to target this same young male demographic. The pie for the male beer drinker is pretty much fixed, and the more competition for this same demographic, the smaller the slice for each brand. However, with 70% of beer drinkers being male, that means that 30% of beer sales are to women. Targeting women beer drinkers is a virtually uncontested market.

While the actual beer inside the bottle or can may be the same, beer manufacturers like Coors have more recently begun experimenting with ads that change the marketing narrative that beer is just for men. Crafting a message that it is cool- and even stylish- for a classy and adventurous woman to drink beer is slowly changing the collective worldview that beer is primarily a man’s drink.

In another example, coffee is sold to coffee drinkers based on the marketing narrative that gourmet coffee with exotic names makes the customer feel special and pampered. Even when they can’t pay their rent on time, a Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte for $4.65 at Starbucks is marketed as an “Affordable Luxury” because the customer is worth it.

The question remains- does Starbucks coffee really taste better than coffee from McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts? In blind coffee taste tests, consumers say no. Therefore, the difference is the marketing narrative consumers have been sold that has created their worldview that Starbucks coffee is better.

Viewed from another perspective Starbucks and Dutch Brothers both sell coffee products of similar quality, and whose marketing narrative makes the customer feel special and worth the premium price consumers have to pay. However, Starbucks sells the coffee drinking environment. At Starbucks, you are encouraged to sit and relax while you work on your laptop or have a business meeting. Dutch Brothers, by contrast, sells coffee to coffee drinkers with a very different worldview. Dutch Brothers’ marketing narrative is based on selling coffee to commuters or people on the go who want to turn their drive time into a more enjoyable experience.

Starbucks and Dutch Brothers both sell gourmet coffee to people that want to feel special, yet the frame (context or atmosphere) of their message is different. While the underlining product is similar, Starbucks and Dutch Brothers each target different micro-customer segments who have different worldviews with a different marketing narrative.

The 5 Categories of Adopters

Business owners should also recognize that there are 5-categories of adopters. Most marketers focus on the early majority and late majority markets, which represent the fattest part of the market. As is the case with male beer drinkers, the fat part of the market is often a very crowded space with lots of competition, referred to as the red ocean. Small businesses can often find relatively smaller uncontested markets that live on the fringes and are ignored by larger competitors simply by addressing people with different worldviews. Just telling a different story and incorporating a different frame can make all the difference for a small business.

To put a finer point on the context of “Frame”, let’s assume your company produces a vegan chip. You could put your veggie chips in a brightly colored bag and sell them in the chip aisle of the supermarket with all the other chips- the fat part of the curve.

Alternatively, you could change the frame and package your veggie chips in a box rather than a bag, and pay a “slot allowance” to the retailer to have your chips placed in the produce section where the nutritionist maven will see it. Health-conscious consumers would never be seen in the chip aisle of a supermarket but by changing the frame and placing your vegetarian chip alternative in the produce aisle, it exposes your product to a micro-customer segment with a different worldview that is mostly ignored by the competition.

Once you hook the innovators and early adopters (nutritionist mavens) onto your veggie chip alternative, the message will slowly grow legs and spread among the general chip eating community. The innovators and early adopters, who are admired by the early and late majority for their wisdom, are seen as the trendsetters. Once the new product has some brand awareness and traction, you can change the frame, package your chips in a bag, and place them among the other chips in the chip aisle.

The desire to do what people we admire most are doing is the glue that keeps our society together. It is also the secret ingredient in every successful marketing venture. Once the innovators and early adopters accept your offering, the message needs to change. As we shared in the related post, The Secret to Product Badging, as more consumers adopt the worldview of innovators and early adopters, these products lose their apparel to this cohort of consumers.

Finding micro-customer segments in an existing market requires that you create a marketing narrative to attract the admired trendsetter consumers. Your story could be to dress like early adopter Kim Kardashian/Kylie Jenner (trendsetter celebrity endorsers with well over 100 million followers). Then as products are accepted by the early and late majority and your early adopters move on to other products, the marketing narrative needs to change to “Join the crowd of your peers and not be left behind”. Innovators and early adopters want to stand out from the crowd, while the early and late majority are encouraged to be more like the crowd.

In 1984, Chrysler introduced us to the minivan when they launched the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. The initial frame targeted the equivalent of early adopters- busy and organized soccer moms. Chrysler injected the marketing narrative of a minivan as a tool for women whose kids lived an active lifestyle with a story and frame to attract the trendsetters.

Once the minivan gained some traction and other manufacturers began to offer their own version of the minivan, the story and frame of the marketing narrative changed to not being left out because all the cool moms were driving minivans.

Our expectations are the engine of our perceptions. It is often not the underlining product that people are buying, but how it makes them feel. An Escalade and a Tahoe are essentially the same vehicles, but with different badging and marketing narrative to appeal to people with different worldviews. Moreover, as new products cross the chasm from early adopters to the majority adopters, the story and frame of the message needs to change to appeal to a new audience with a totally different worldview.

Small business owners are best served by not competing in the fat part of the adoption curve where competition is high, and consider employing a different story and frame to appeal to more fringe consumers that the primary players have ignored.

How can you change your marketing narrative to find your uncontested micro-customer segment?