Historically, marketers were accustomed to working in broad strokes. Mass was the word of the day, and consumers were usually perceived as white, middle-aged, middle class--your basic homogeneous unit. The vehicle of choice was the phone book-sized catalog la Sears; the market of choice included anyone who fell between the ages of 18 to 49. The flavor of advertising was, as a rule, bland. Clip art advertising painted a Beaver Cleaver picture of American society: everyone drinking the same milk, buying the same refrigerator, wearing the same trousers.
The baby boom heard 'round the world changed all that. Add the awakening of ethnic and cultural pride, the power of the growing senior market and the onslaught of the Information Age, and you have markets begging to be sharpened down into increasingly microscopic levels. Consequently, marketing in the '90s is becoming akin to taking apart a set of Russian nesting dolls--each shell reveals a smaller piece of the apparently similar constituent. It's no longer good enough to remove the first canister to behold the 50-plus market, or the baby boomer market, or the ethnic market. It's uncovering that tiny doll in the middle that's the key to your success.
Consider that a few years ago, you'd be exalted as cutting-edge if you launched a campaign specifically targeting blacks. Now that's considered pass, even borderline offensive. Marsha Feltingoff, owner of Alma International Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, points out you can no more use the same marketing strategy to reach a black teenager and a black baby boomer than you could to reach a black teen and a white senior citizen.
Consequently, Feltingoff has built her $20 million company on a marketing strategy as diverse as her audience. She markets African jewelry to an adult black market via glossy black packaging, an upscale gold emblem, and an infomercial that combines authentic African music and a message clearly encouraging cultural pride. Meanwhile, Feltingoff appeals to the younger black market through the Internet: Her Web site, which markets information on musical artists, features a nightclublike atmosphere, bold graphics, and hip cultural and linguistic references.
"I take a very direct approach to [marketing]," says Feltingoff. "I like to peel away the layers of the onion and get to the core of each marketplace I want to reach."
Feltingoff represents a new wave of entrepreneurs who know they must become fluent in niche marketing to stay one step ahead of today's marketing-savvy consumer. "It's much easier to throw jelly beans up in the air and hope they fall in the right place. But that leaves a lot to chance," says Feltingoff, who dabbles in specific market segments via joint ventures or equity investments. "If you take the time to know your market, if you do the homework and build the foundation, you can hone in on that consumer--and your success rate is going to be a lot greater."