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Transition: From 3 to 6

Posted by Rick Webb on July 7th, 2014 at 10:19 am

"It took us over 25 years to reach 3 billion internet users across the globe. In the next five years, it's predicted we'll double that number." That line is a big deal here at Percolate. It comes from a widely quoted Ericsson Mobility Report from last year.

Wow.

Back when I started in digital marketing, the web itself was really just a niche market. We could glean demographic data simply by knowing if someone was looking at a website during their lunch hour. This assumed a certain type of American, white collar worker. We got our budgets out of a marketer's experimental budget. Everyone was dipping their toes into the web, but you could draw certain assumptions about the demographics of the audience on there.

This has no longer been true for a while now. We've thought of the web demo these days as broadly representative of the population at large in the U.S. But as the web continues to grow, we'll see three distinct, but interrelated trends.

New niches become massive.

First, groups that were previously too small to statistically matter as a demo will grow to be large enough to be important. These growing niches are something I personally find interesting. More internet users in the US? Great! We've been seeing this at a steady clip for the last decade. The internet as a commercial medium has become more robust as more and more Americans have decided to give the internet a whirl and become addicted to it. This kind of scaling of customers is a gift to marketers. One of your channels - one with a relatively low marketing cost at that - has more customers? Great! Adjust marketing spend accordingly and you're off to the races.

Complexity, however, emerges. An opportunity through scale in America presents itself. The web now, of course, is mainstream, and it houses dozens of niches that can be marketed to. This is going to explode as these niches achieve scale. Customizing your marketing message to female Muslim teenagers who like pop music, to fans of adult fans fantasy literature. So many different opportunities. It'll be super interesting and fun. Customized marketing for every demo.

Whole new communities around the world

New American niches and fandoms, however, are the smallest of these new potential opportunities. What's crazy exciting is the imminent arrival of the entire rest of the world, beyond the current mature markets, on the mobile web. It's one thing to go from 3 billion to 6 billion internet users in 5 years. It's another when they're going to come online all over the world. Whole new markets are emerging. Whole new messages will need to be crafted. It's not just about changing your media channel dollar allocation, it's about crafting a message that resonates for each and every individual group that comes online. Every new emerging country. Every new demographic.

Mobile becomes dominant

Finally we have mobile. When the first billion internet users came online, we were crafting our message for people sitting at their desks. We know this is no longer true, but the next three billion, says Ericsson, will come online on their mobile phones. That is insane. There are so many more possibilities. Messages for home, work, in transit, at the mall at the store. We've begun experimenting with this, but I think we've only really scratched the surface.

Three billion more users. All over the world. With myriad hopes and dreams, ambitions, concerns and passions. Different cultural backgrounds and different contexts. We've known for a long time that we need to customize our brand's message by channel and demographic. That challenge is going to explode. Instead of 1-5 regional markets and 3-4 demos, we're looking at literally dozens of regional markets and hundreds of demos and contexts.  Niche audiences and demos will become giant by way of sheer scale.

Managing the messages

And all of these messages, of course, will need to support our brand's values and flow from the brand architecture. Just managing the details is going to be an insanely complex task. Noah's been talking a lot lately about "multidimensional marketing." I don't think he likes the name, but it's an interesting way to look at the challenges. Your message needs to be filtered by region, demographic, niche community, and geographic context/activity. There are potentially thousands of messages that need to flow back to the main brand platform. They need to be delivered in the right channel, at the right time. It's can be a terrifying thought. The sheer paperwork alone seems insurmountable.

But it also presents amazing challenges. In my career I've had extraordinary success customizing a brand message to a niche audience. The potential for doing this at scale is insanely exciting to me. And the more people that join the web, across mobile and different regions, the more potential I see for it.

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