Marketers know that lesbians prefer Subarus.
From their scrappy advertisements with license plates subtly calling out Xenia the Warrior Princess to their more overt work sponsorship in “The L Word” lesbians love their Subarus.
This is segmentation at it’s strangest: finding and marketing to a niche market to increase share.
Lesbians are more the four times likely to own a Subaru than a straight person. But they’re 11 times more likely to own a Saab than anything else. Lesbian preferences for cars were Sabb, (the now discontinued) Scion, Jeep, Subaru, then the also discontinued Saturn. Gay men were 18 times more likely to own a Saab than straight couples.
It certainly didn’t hurt Subaru to market their cars to lesbians but it wasn’t as important not successful as advertising campaigns telescoped. Lesbians prefer practical cars that start, drive, and provide safety to their owners. So do straight people.
Lesbians like Subaru’s, but not as much as they like Saab’s. Segmentation – the process of spending a fortune on market research to “uncover” consumer preferences – can help bump sales for as-is customers. Sales may increase a few percentage points if marketers spend enough money. But segmentation and marketing will never unlock a genuine blue ocean of noncustomers.
Quantitative research is not only expensive but also locks businesses into the as-is market by studying their current customers. Rounding up the “usual suspects” might find a real suspect but is more likely a waste of time. Looking towards noncustomers, who cannot or will not respond to a focus group or survey, is where blue oceans of opportunity are located.
Marketers seem to like spending a fortune on quantitative studies, despite that they’re essentially paying for a pair of handcuffs that locks them into their as-is markets and prevents the exploration of new unexplored areas. Wasting money is usually a bad idea, but wasting money to limit one’s focus and purposefully avoid entirely new customer groups is an even worse idea. Businesses would oftentimes gain more value cashing their quantitative marketing budgets into one-dollar bills and burning them in the furnace to heat the building; at least this would do no harm.
Managers must decide whether they want to focus their efforts on new markets that will unlock a mass of noncustomers to find blue oceans or focus on adding a marginal percentage of current customers. Trying to find a middle ground – targeting new customers and marketing to old one’s with the same offering – will result in a muddied and undifferentiated middle ground.