Generations of the Niche

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I posted in late September (just a few posts down) about the Rugby Tournament in Aspen that I’ve attended for the last 24 years. I mentioned theĀ  need for Generational liaisons as partners to help marketers serve a niche. I wanted to expand on the concept of generations with the context of niche.

When I started going to Ruggerfest, Aspen was still a relatively small mountain town in Colorado. There was no celebrity stalking on the streets and much fewer million dollar homes on the hillside. There was bar called Ebe’s and a place you could eat breakfast out on Copper Avenue Mall. The culture of the Rugby players matched that of Aspen; a small group of loyal transplants (for the most part) playing a sport they grew up with in a land far from the mother land. The parties were similar to what rock stars are used to (complete with groupies).

As Aspen swung into view as a playground for the celebrities the scenery changed. Soon Ebe’s was gone and it was replaced by a Planet Hollywood with a Hard Rock Cafe just down the street. Holy homogenization Batman! I felt like a longtime fan of a band that had just sold out. It was very disheartening. These changes coincided with some of the rugby players as they started to settle down and have kids. This of course was not a negative thing; just a change in the landscape.

Today things in Aspen are really changing. I’ve heard that the Cooper Avenue Mall (heart of the town) is going to be rebuilt and feature such charming establishments such as “I sell one product and it costs 2.3 million dollars” or “my wife is so unhappy that the only way she staves off crying is by going on shopping sprees and spending all my money”. Of course there will be a few more art galleries thrown in for good measure, which I don’t mind at all. The billionaires are moving in and buying/tearing down the million dollar homes and rebuilding multimillion dollar homes. I’ve seen more Ferrari’s in the last 3 years than all the years combined. The rugby teams have younger members and we are entering a new phase of player lifestyle and we will see what transpires. To date I’ve seen no groupies and more competition for the championship. (This year announcer Buddy Ortega commented on the small hotels across from Wagner field being replaced by a Home Depot and a Target. Don’t worry folks. They are just larger/fancier hotels. Think metaphor.)

Along with thinking of this as the death of another cool little mountain town (which for me died about 20 years ago) I see this as generations of the niche – Whether that niche is the small town culture of Aspen or the rugby culture.

As I mentioned before, marketers need liaisons for each generation within the niche. I also believe that these partnerships and living that culture is the only way for a business to stay relevant for the culture. It is important for businesses to “ride these generational cycles” and participate in an intelligent manner. It may also be necessary to help a niche kill a phase to participate in a new one. The details of this would be completely based on the situation and would need to be transparent. An example of this would have been if Sub Pop had seen the coming demise of Grunge in the early 90s and started the reinvention/process early. (In fact they may have done or tried to do this.)

If businesses are going to address the needs of multiple generations they must create a flexible brand and expect the customers to help build the brand online. Marketers must be loyal to the niche while remaining aware of generational cycles. It is also important to have someone(s) on the outside of the niche observing with an objective eye. As a team gets more entrenched in the niche they tend to lose perspective and opportunities that lie outside the niche are lost.

Lastly don’t expect things to be perfect. As a participant of the niche you will make mistakes and in the end that will help build the relationship. As long as they are not terminal in nature. There are going to be differences in how different generations respond to mistakes and yet all will respond to honesty (aka transparency).

By Michael Myers

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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