How To Market In A Bubbleocracy

As in our personal lives, bubbles have divided the “mass market” that we used to cater to into smaller chunks and stronger views. Is this a good thing? I’m in the bubble of those who say this is our inevitable future.

How To Market In A Bubbleocracy

by David Cooperstein

Posted on 02-22-2018

We increasingly live inside bubbles. They can be defined by geography, device platform, social tools, brand choices, politics, ideologies, and so on. Our decisions, conversations, social identities, and opinions are ruled by these bubbles, leading to a new reality I call the “bubbleocracy.”

More bubbles, driven by technology, are on their way. Think about Facebook’s request of its audience to determine trustworthy news sources for its feed. That will surely result in bubbles of like-minded people. Voice interfaces will drive tighter bubbles around purchases, as fewer search results, more same-brand repurchases, and retailer concentration emerge. Ad targeting will continue to grow based on “look-alike“ models that target ads for brand X to friends of buyer Y.

Going forward, new technology and go-to-market strategies will continue to multiply that reinforce the walls of the bubbleocracy within which we are now firmly immersed.

Is A Bubble Just A Niche?

Niche marketing, messaging, and media buying have been around forever and have only accelerated in importance in our data-fueled economy. The distinction between a great approach to targeted niche marketing and dealing with the bubbleocracy boils down to brand values over efficient marketing. While your Instagram feed might identify you as a buyer of casual shoes and therefore a target for Allbirds’ new color introductions, the folks at Tom’s might stir you with a more pointed ad reminding you that they give a pair of shoes away for each pair you buy.

This difference between product marketing and values-based stories is how marketers work with the bubbles their customers live in. For marketers, the challenge is to recognize these bubbles and determine whether and how to take advantage of them. Good strategies to attract consumers in this new bubbleocracy must emphasize:

• Retention efforts over acquisition: Despite repeated surveys that I and others have done to understand marketers’ balance between customer acquisition (expensive, low impact) and retention (efficient, sustained loyalty, high ROI), marketing often devotes its biggest budgets to acquisition. In a bubbleocracy, it will be easier—and consistently lower cost—to market to those who already love your brand because they are easier to find and easy to message. But it means doubling down on understanding your current customers and how to drive top-line growth within that customer base.

• Look-alike modeling based on opinions and attitudes: Look-alikes started as a way to use data to find new names of customers who might be interested because their friends are but without the psychographic insight. In the bubbleocracy, brands will need to understand which values (say, environmental concerns) will resonate with people who, on the surface, “look” like other people.

• A firm stance in support of strong, pointed messages: National, broadly targeted ads have to appeal to the masses versus the sharpness that will inevitably alienate one part of the population. In the bubbleocracy, messages need to be sharper to appeal to a specific cause or interest. Subaru, for example, masters this with its focus on safety, family, and the great outdoors. Airbnb, Kellogg’s, and Samsung, meantime, make strong statements in their ads about diversity and inclusion, while Starbucks consistently stays the course of a non-denominational holiday cup design. The tradeoff is that the bubbles you appeal to grow stronger at the risk of losing some other customers along the way.

Not To Burst Your Bubble …

As much as bubbles make marketers’ jobs easier in some respects, they are much harder in other ways. Of note:

• Targeted media buys require more complex algorithms: While the digital media world has become adept at acting on demographic and psychographic profiles, traditional media still feeds off broader proxies, such as age, gender, and contextual relevance. On top of the complexity of a 35-year-old woman being a new mother or in charge of a few tweens, she is also an executive, union member, religious observer, meat-lover, environmentalist, and any number of other characteristics that could impact her impression of a brand. Without the right tools, programmatic and proxy-based media buys could become much harder when superficially similar audiences have fundamentally distinct views.

• Values-based messages could lead to loathing: The recent trends we have seen in income, political persuasion, and urban/rural perspectives are splitting customers more than ever. While Millennials, in particular, say they need to believe in a brand’s values to make a purchase, they do not share monolithic opinions. Adhering to one side or another could alienate prospective customers. Brand planning should take into account the business impact of a controversial boycott or protest. The cost/benefit of a strong, segmented message should be weighed against the gain or loss of alienated customers.

• The ROI on being true to a message is hard to measure: Generic messages for cereal and cars appeal broadly but provide less of a “reason to believe” in a brand. Larry Fink, CEO of investment firm Blackrock, just put out his investor letter saying that companies can no longer just make a profit; they have to stand for something and make the world a better place; that shareholder welfare matters more than shareholder value. Marketers need to factor that goodwill into their messaging. The payback from this effort to do better will require marketers to tune their personas to mode attitudinal segments.

With so many bubbles floating around, consumers will find themselves making unexpected brand allegiances. Google users who like Amazon for shopping will have to shift to Walmart when they talk to their Google Home devices. Olympic skiing fans will either align or turn away from traditional brands like Visa, Head & Shoulders, and Samsung that are authentically supporting gay skier Gus Kenworthy. And those who loved the convenience of Uber but are turned off by their party-boy image will continue to hail the more inclusive Lyft.

As in our personal lives, bubbles have divided the “mass market” that we used to cater to into smaller chunks and stronger views. Is this a good thing? I’m in the bubble of those who say this is our inevitable future.

Topics: Experience Cloud, Insights Inspiration, Digital Transformation, Digital Foundation, Analytics, Trends & Research, CMO by Adobe

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