Targeting the ‘powerful’ few

Friday February 13, 2009,

4 min Read

Let me start by sharing a recent conversation I had with my mother. As a lot of women’s discussions go, this one too was about cosmetics.

Talk veered around to anti-ageing creams (a very relevant product for her, I dare say, considering that she has entered her fifties) and her grievances against a very popular and highly advertised brand When she complained of itchy eyes on its application, I was quick to point out that she had used it incorrectly and that the product label specifically stated that it was not to be applied close to the eye area. “Well, have you seen the font size on the label? Do they really expect ‘wrinkled’ users of these creams to have such good eyesight?” she retorted! Now, as an aware consumer, I make it a point to read product labels and expect others to do the same, but her response made me think seriously about how, as marketers, we often miss out on small things that may trigger consumer reactions. I quote this example here, because, in my opinion, a product and its consumers are a powerful medium in themselves, and the power that word-of-mouth carries cannot be underestimated.

Loyal and satisfied customers will often provide the best advertising for any brand and earn it the goodwill that no form of paid publicity can get. Enrolling the support of such customers to supplement your marketing efforts can, thus, be a very effective means of achieving growth. One of the approaches to market segmentation and targeting can be based on identifying the existing and prospective customers with regards to the ‘word-of-mouth’ power that they carry. In his path-breaking work,‘ The Tipping Point’, Malcolm Gladwell talks about ‘Connectors’, ‘Mavens’ and ‘Salesmen’ – the three types of people who are needed to create an ‘epidemic’. These are the few people who would make an idea or a product reach a critical mass so that it suddenly emerges as a huge phenomenon (hence the term ‘epidemic’). A brief synopsis of these types:

Connectors: They provide the links between people with their high degree of sociability. Their personalities are full of energy, curiosity, confidence and sociability and through these traits they can span many worlds. From a marketing perspective, it is these guys who would help to provide access to a large and varied group of prospects. According to Gladwell, ‘word of mouth epidemics are the work of Connectors’.

Mavens: These are the people who are the most knowledgeable about various products, prices, places, etc. – the ‘information specialists’. They enjoy gathering information and are socially motivated enough to share it with others. As information is power, the Mavens’ opinion carries a lot of weight- ‘they connect people to the marketplace and have the inside scoop on the marketplace’

Salesmen: The most special characteristic of Salesmen is their ability to persuade others to do something. While the Mavens are ‘data banks’ and the Connectors work as ‘social glue’, it is the Salesmen whose charismatic personalities and communication skills persuade people when they are unconvinced after hearing something. They are, thus, equally critical for ‘tipping the word-of-mouth epidemics’

When a marketer looks at reaching out to audiences in the above way, the information will need to be tailored in a different manner for each group and media choices will also have to be made accordingly. The Mavens will be the ones reading specialised journals, seeking details through product literature, paying attention to the fine print in advertising and exploring the various options of enhancing their knowledge. The Connectors are likely to be the ones with huge ‘friends lists’ on social networking sites, the ones having their fingers in different pies and are likely to be involved in a lot of ‘socially relevant’ activities. The Salesmen, who could be part of the company’s sales force or emerge from the user group itself, would be emotionally motivated and have superb persuasive skills. It is also likely that there would be individual straddling across the above segments and such people would be extremely valuable for ‘word-of-mouth epidemics’ to spread.

Given the limited resources and information that a marketing plan will often be faced with, it may not be possible to carve market segments based on such a classification alone. In fact, the use of demographic and other variables (discussed in the previous article) cannot be undermined in any case. Marketers should be sensitive to societal trends and the people around them to derive maximum benefits by identifying such clusters, which, in turn, are based on a fundamental understanding of basic variables of demographics and psychographics.

Share on