Departmental Papers (ASC)

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version

January 2006

Publication Source

Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age

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We argue strenuously, strenuously against the naive sentimentalism on the part of companies that insist "We love all our customers and we love all our customers the same." -advertising executive quoted in Advertising Age, March 1995

[These customers] don't spend much money with you now/aren't big spenders in the category with your competitors and, for whatever reason, lack the capacity to increase consumption in your category in the future....If you can avoid recruiting them into your program from the beginning, do so. In many cases, however, until they have joined the program, you have no way of assessing their value....The goal is to starve them out of the program quietly but effectively. -loyalty consultant Richard Barlow, October 2000

When they were written, those comments were meant to be provocative, even controversial. Today, however, the reasoning they represent is conventional among marketers. At their most politically correct, they speak of a "customer-centric approach." In the words of one writer, "all employees of a company, from the CEO on down, must continually ask themselves what would they like if they were a customer of their company." But as the two quotations above suggest, cold winds of change are pushing executives toward tough decisions as to which customers really count and how to talk to them as personally and as customer-centrically as is practicable. Marketers increasingly use computer technologies to generate ever-more carefully defined consumer categories-or niches-that tag consumers as desirable or undesirable for their business. Increasingly, too, they use computer technologies to vary the content and the scheduling of messages they send to people in different niches.



Date Posted: 21 November 2008