"There has been an enormous change in the marketplace," says Ross E. Goldstein, president of Generation Insights, a San Francisco consulting firm that tracks trends. "The consumer marketplace has become so differentiated, it's a misconception to talk about the marketplace in any kind of general, grand way. You have to talk about specific corners of the marketplace. And the imperative for the marketer is to really understand who your consumers are on a number of different levels: what their motivation is, how a particular product or service fits into their lives, what they're looking for, what options are available."
The challenge is to pick a niche, any niche, because "there are a zillion of them," Goldstein says. "You can market to socioeconomic status or to region or to gender or to lifestyle or to technological sophistication. There's no end to the number of different ways you can slice the pie."
To get a feel for just how exact a science marketing has become, consider these statistics:
Female baby boomers influence 80 percent of leisure decisions and conduct 44 percent of business travel.
Vocabulary levels of 18- to 25-year-olds dropped sharply between 1940 and 1980, and continue to steadily decline.
Forty percent of all U.S. Latinos watched the 1995 Super Bowl, while 70 percent watched the 1994 World Cup Final.
About one-third of America's college students don't watch television at all, and 55 percent watch less than 1.5 hours a day.
Black adults aged 24 and younger are three times more likely to buy a pager than the average U.S. adult.
Though obvious in their dissimilarities, these groups are all veterans of the marketing wars. As a result, they display a remarkable discernment about marketing and share an aversion to being lumped together, condescended to or manipulated by businesses.
"Consumers are infinitely wiser about the ways of marketing than they used to be," says Goldstein. "We're talking to a more mature audience, people who know more of what they want and what they're looking for. With the avalanche of information available to consumers, they can scrutinize their purchases more actively than they used to. And they're better able to separate the reality from the fantasy."