Beehives: How to Attract These New Market Segments

Beehives: How to Attract These New Market Segments

By the year 2025, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 25%, according to projections. This puts the nation on a growth path similar to the one experienced just after World War II, when the GIs came home and helped create the Baby Boom in the 1950s and 60s. This, and the fact that Americans are living longer, means that nearly every U.S. market segment will expand in numbers over the next 25 years.

“This [population] growth will combine with increasing diversity to create an ever-growing list of market segments,” says Josh Calder, chief editor of the Global Lifestyles project, a research venture of an Arlington, Virginia-based consultancy, Social Technologies. “I saw a professionally made bumper sticker the other day that said, ‘Proud to be Sikh and American.’ Such niches driven by ethnicity, attitudes, and interest will proliferate,” he adds.

As the population increases, traditional niche markets may become difficult for businesses to target with a single marketing strategy. The niche market of today will become a mass market in its own right tomorrow.

These new markets will naturally become segmented not only by nationality or age, but also by spending behavior and other psychographic characteristics. It’s already happening today — as traditional social groups are breaking down, people are meeting their needs for connection through communities of interest, or “beehives,” that express personal identity.

“Beehiving is the growth of tight-knit, alternative communities sharing common values and passions. Marketers must tap into beehive rituals, customs, and language to build trust and patronage,” according to Vickie Abrahamson, co-founder and executive vice president of Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, a trends consulting firm.

The growing tendency to form new, small groups that share common interests, values, activities, and passions ranges from extreme snowboarders to the Happy Camper RV Club. Beehives offer the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for consumers, and represent the development of new marketing groups. Their common interests give marketers new and different hot buttons that can be used to attract customers more reliably than age, gender, or ethnicity alone.

How to communicate to beehives

For marketers, beehives are “good news and bad news.” The good news: Beehives help us identify new ways to connect with people, new hot buttons that people are reacting to, and a different way to slice the pie. So many tired and rehashed marketing methods fall on deaf ears that it’s exciting to think there might be something our audiences will listen to and react to in new ways. We just need to speak their language.

The bad news: It’s all new territory, and it’s all over the place. The audience you want to attract is probably fragmented into many different beehives, and you’ll have to learn how to navigate the new waters. For instance, if you’re an organizational communicator, your audience is probably not members of “Your Company Beehive” who are eagerly awaiting your next communication — instead, they could be rollerbladers, poets, NASCAR enthusiasts, etc., and you’ll have to figure out how to grab their common interests to create your own community. If you’re marketing a product, you might want to find out how different beehive segments can use it, and communicate to them individually — at least in some part of your marketing. Interesting, huh?

It does give us all food for thought. And another thing to think about: not all beehives come into being naturally — beehives can be directed, and they can be encouraged. The following is a list of some examples of beehive behavior — some of which were brought about deliberately by experience marketing.

Beehive behavior

Wristband fever

Lance Armstrong and the Wear Yellow campaign made wristbands popular, and groups everywhere started asking you to wear your passion on your wrist. Approximately 55 million people across the globe wear a LIVESTRONG™ wristband in support of people living with cancer.

Online communities

You can find a web group for almost every interest. There are online communities for owners of miniature dachshunds, Star Trek lovers, and migraine sufferers. And more than 85 groups of fans gather online just to discuss the Italian comedian, Beppe Grillo.

Belief-based products

In the Middle East, cola drinkers link taste to faith when they buy the anti-Western “Mecca Cola.” Part of its corporate philosophy is its pledge to donate 10% of its profits to fund humanitarian projects in the Palestinian territories, and another 10% to charities in the countries in which the drink is sold. This activist stance is reflected in the company slogan, which appears on all its products: “No more drinking stupid, drink with commitment!”

Just like Me

Parents of young daughters are aware of the American Girl doll phenomenon, where customers willspend hours in American Girl Place, shopping for branded dolls, clothing, books, accessories, and memorabilia. American Girl even has its own restaurant, the American Girl Café (with a four-month waiting list). Dressed in matching outfits, girls come from all over to dine with their little plastic friends.

Investing and real estate clubs

Scores of people who wouldn’t otherwise leave their homes are getting together once or twice a month to learn and talk about finance and investing. They invite speakers, have group projects, exchange tips, and go on trips together.

The bottom line buzz

All of these groups are bound together by their chosen interests and passions; that’s what makes them strong. It wasn’t necessarily that the people in them were born at a certain time, or as a certain gender, or into a certain ethnicity, or had anything else happen to them that was beyond their control — they chose these groups, they made an effort to belong. As the population continues to increase, people will continue to form new beehives, and new markets will appear that will segment by spending behavior and other psychographic characteristics. Marketers can take advantage of this trend by recognizing these beehives, taking note of how they affect spending and behavior, and tapping into what makes them tick — and then communicating to them on their own terms.


American Demographics

Fast Company

Marcia Hoeck is president of Hoeck Associates, a leading strategic branding and marketing firm. Since 1984, Marcia has helped organizations generate millions of dollars in revenue by focusing brands and integrating communications. Read more articles and special reports at

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