Marketing 4.0 – The Influential Digital Subcultures

Youth for Mind Share

Women for Market Share

and Netizens for Heart Share

When it comes to brand advocacy in the digital world, not all customers are created equal. Some segments rely on their own personal preferences and what they hear from advertising; thus advocacy does not matter to them. Moreover, they do not share their experience with everyone else. Other segments have a greater tendency to ask for and give recommendations on brands. They are the ones who are more likely to be loyal brand advocates.

For increased probability of getting advocacy, marketers should place their bets on youth, women, and netizens (YWN). Many topics related to these three major segments have been researched and explored separately. In terms of size, each of these is a very lucrative segment. Thus, the marketing approach has been tailored specifically to cater to them. But here is the bigger picture. There is a common thread that connects them: YWN are the most influential segments in the digital era.

It is perhaps not surprising that most subcultures—groups that have sets of norms and beliefs outside of the mainstream culture (e.g., cosplayers, homeschoolers, and hackers)—come predominantly from either youth, women, or netizens. They were, in many parts of the world, considered minorities and on the periphery of society. In the past, authority and power indeed belonged to seniors, men, and citizens.

This was due to the traditionally higher level of income and purchasing power that seniors, men, and citizens have had. But over time, the importance and influence of YWN has increased significantly. In fact, the subcultures that YWN represent have begun to influence the mainstream culture. Their relatively larger networks of communities, friends, and family empower them to do this.

Youth, for example, set the trends for their seniors, especially when it comes to pop culture fields such as music, movies, sports, food, fashion, and technology. Seniors often do not have the time and agility to fully explore the fast-changing pop culture; they simply follow and rely on the recommendations of youth. Younger-generation consumers often become the first to try new products, thus often becoming the primary target market for marketers. When youth accept new products, those products usually reach the mainstream market successfully.

In many countries the women in the household act as the chief financial officer of the family. In selecting which brand to buy in many product and service categories, women’s voices often trump men’s. This is because most women have the patience and interest to go through a comprehensive process of researching for the best choice, something that most men consider useless or even painful. Thus, women play a significant role in becoming the gatekeeper of any products and services that marketers offer to families.

Netizens—or citizens of the internet—are also highly influential. As digital natives, they are very savvy in connecting with others online while sharing information. While not all their shared information is valuable and not all their activities are productive, they are clearly the epitome of smarter customers. Representing what they see as a true model of boundaryless democracy, they freely express their opinions and feelings about brands, often anonymously. They create ratings, post comments, and even create content that other citizens pay attention to.

Because of their characteristics, YWN are not easy to impress. But when we impress them, they will be the most loyal advocates of our brands. Brand advocacy from quality segments such as YWN is more valuable than from others. Because YWN have a strong influence on the mainstream market, brands will reap huge benefits by engaging them.

Youth: Acquiring the Mind Share

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For marketers, it makes sense to target youth. According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), in 2014 there were 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, the highest number in human history, and their number will continue to grow. Interestingly, approximately 90 percent of them are living in less-developed countries. They are facing all sorts of life challenges to realize their full potential in education and career while managing social dynamics among their peers. Marketers are identifying and solving these challenges. The goal is to be relevant to young people’s lives and therefore to gain access to their growing wallets.

Even marketers whose products and services do not primarily aim at young customers pursue this lucrative market. The objective is to influence their minds early in their lives, even if it is still not profitable to do so currently. Today’s young people, in the near future, will be the primary and probably the most profitable customers.

Moreover, targeting youth is the most exciting thing that marketers do. Marketing to them always involves either cool advertisements, trendy digital content, celebrity endorsements, or innovative brand activations. Unlike older segments, youth are so dynamic that it is rarely unproductive to engage them. And since the demographic size is huge, companies are often willing to spend heavily on this interesting marketing segment.

The role of youth in influencing the rest of the market is immense. First, they are early adopters. Youth are often accused of being rebellious and anti-establishment—that is, they love what adults hate. Although some youth are behaving as accused, most of them are not. The truth is that youth are just not afraid of experimentation. They try new products and experience new services that older segments deem too risky.

Marketers with newly developed and launched products need them. A youth-first strategy often has the highest likelihood of success. When the iPod was first introduced in 2001, the youth-oriented tonality of its advertising helped create rapid early adoption and eventually mainstream market success. Similarly, when Netflix offered its streaming-only service in 2010, its early adopters were tech-savvy youth.

Secondly, youth are trendsetters. Youth are the Now Generation customers who demand instant everything. When it comes to trends, they are very agile. They follow trends so fast that marketers often fail to keep up. But the upside is that this allows marketers to quickly pinpoint trends that will influence the market in the near future.

Their tribal nature means that youth are also very fragmented. Thus, trends that youth follow are equally fragmented. Certain sports, music, and fashion trends might have cult following among some youth tribes but might not be relevant for others. Perhaps the only trend that most youth follow is the movement toward a digital lifestyle.

While many youth-endorsed trends turn out to be short-lived fads due to this fragmentation, some evolving trends do manage to hit the mainstream. The rise of Justin Bieber, who initially gained fame as a trending YouTube artist followed by millions of youth, is an example. The entire universe of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, also started out as a trend among youth. Similarly, music-streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Joox were brought to the mainstream market by young customers.

Finally, youth are game changers. They are often associated with irresponsible and selfish behaviors. But recent trends show that they are maturing much earlier. This is because young people respond more quickly to changes happening in the world, such as globalization and technological advances. Now, they are concerned about what is happening around them. In fact, they are one of the primary drivers of change in the world.

We can see this from the growing youth empowerment movements. RockCorps, for instance, is a platform that allows youth to volunteer for four hours to transform communities and earn one ticket to an exclusive concert. Another example is, which invites young people to participate in world-changing events such as a series of inspiring “WE Day” live concerts, as well as to purchase “ME to WE” products that have social impact. Indonesia Mengajar offers a similar empowerment platform through education. It rigorously selects the country’s top graduates, asking them to forgo potentially high-paying jobs in favor of teaching in remote village schools for one year. These movements make volunteering look cool. More importantly, this program raises the awareness of older generations about the importance of activism and social impact.

These roles—early adopters, trend setters, and game changers—all lead to the conclusion that youth are the key to mind-share. If brands want to influence the minds of mainstream customers, convincing youth is the important first step.


Women: Growing the Market Share

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The female market is also a logical one for marketers to pursue. Not only is its size enormous, the segment profile is also distinctive. Highlighting the psychological differences, John Gray metaphorically argues that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.”

The inherent differences between men and women have been a subject for both psychology and marketing. Many experts have put forth their views about marketing to women. Many products, services, and marketing campaigns have been developed specifically for women.

The influence that women have on others is defined by what they do. Rena Bartos, in her book Marketing to Women Around the World, describes the segmentation of the female market: stay-at-home housewife, plan-to-work housewife, working woman with a job, or career woman. To put it simply, the world of women revolves around family and work. The dilemma they often face is either to choose one alternative or to balance between family and career. But being more suited to multitasking, women are inherently better managers when it comes to complex, multifaceted assignments, at home, at work, or both.

In general, there are three roles that women play. First of all, women are information collectors. According to Martha Barletta, a woman’s decision-making process differs from a man’s. Whereas a man’s path-to-purchase is short and straightforward, a woman’s resembles a spiral, often going back to previous steps to collect new information and to reassess whether moving to the next step is the right choice. Women typically spend hours in stores reviewing quality and comparing prices as well as hours researching online, while men typically limit their search and go after what they want as quickly as possible.

Not only do women research more, they also converse more about brands. They seek out the opinions of their friends and family, and they are open to receiving assistance from others. While men just want to get things done, women want to find the perfect product, the perfect service, or the perfect solution.

For marketers, the information-collecting nature of women has its benefits. It means that all marketing communications and customer education efforts are not a waste. Women actually pay attention to all the information, and they will eventually summarize it for others.

In relation to that, women are holistic shoppers. The fact that they experience more touchpoints in their spiral path-to-purchase means that they are exposed to more factors for consideration. They are more likely to consider everything—functional benefits, emotional benefits, prices, and the like—before determining the true value of products and services. For certain household categories, women consider products’ value not only to themselves but to the entire family.

Women also consider and browse for more brands, including less popular brands that they believe might have more value. Because of this, women are more confident about their choice when they finally buy. Thus, they are more loyal and more inclined to recommend their choice to their community.

Because of these aforementioned qualities, women are de facto household managers. They deserve the titles of chief financial officer, purchasing manager, and asset manager of the family. Not only are they the gatekeepers for most household products, including big-ticket items, women are also the influencers for other products such as investment and financial services.

A Pew Research Center report in 2008 revealed that in 41 percent of U.S. households, women were the ones calling the shots whereas in only 26 percent of the households, men were more dominant (in the remainder of the households, they equally split decision making). In Indonesia, the picture is even more striking. Based on a survey by MarkPlus Insight in 2015, about 74 percent of Indonesian women managed all the family finances—controlling even the income of their spouses—although only 51 percent of them were working.

It turns out that the role that women play at home is spreading to the workplace. In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women account for 41 percent of the employees who have the authority to make purchasing decisions for their employers in the United States.

The influence of women at home and at work is growing. As information collectors, holistic shoppers, and household managers, women are the key to win market share in the digital economy. To access even bigger markets, brands will need to get past women’s comprehensive decision-making process.

Netizens: Expanding the Heart Share

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Michael Hauben, who coined the word in the early 1990s, defines netizens as the people across geographical boundaries who care about and actively work toward developing the internet for the benefit of the larger world.

Netizens are considered to be the true citizens of democracy because they want to be involved in the development of the internet. They see the world horizontally, not vertically. The content on the internet is created and shared by the people and for the people. But they believe in total democracy and not so much in governance. They embrace openness and sharing with others with no geographical boundaries.

There are 3.4 billion internet users—45 percent of the world’s population, according to United Nations estimates. Not all of them can be considered netizens or citizens of the Internet. Forrester’s Social Technographics segmentation can help explain why not all internet users deserve to be called netizens. According to the segmentation, there is a hierarchy of internet users, including inactives, spectators (people who watch and read online content), joiners (people who join and visit social media), collectors (people who add tags to webpages and use RSS feeds), critics (people who post ratings and comments online), and creators (people who create and publish online content). The collectors, critics, and creators best characterize the netizens—people who actively contribute to the internet and do not just consume on the internet.

Their role in influencing others is related to their desire to always be connected and to contribute. Netizens are social connectors. We know that netizens love to connect. They talk to one another, and information flows as they converse. Under anonymity, they have fewer risks and therefore are more confident when interacting with others and participating in online conversations. On the internet, their usernames and avatars are their identities.

There are many ways to socially connect on the internet. The most popular are social networking services and instant messaging apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, QQ, Tumblr, Instagram, and LinkedIn. A relationship on those platforms usually starts as a one-to-one connection between two individuals who know and trust each other. This initial connection will lead to a link between the two individuals’ separate networks, creating a many-to-many connection. From the outside, online communities look like webs of strangers, but on the inside, they are webs of trusting friends. Since it is a many-to-many network built on one-to-one relationships, an internet community usually grows exponentially and becomes one of the strongest forms of community.

Netizens are also expressive evangelists. Not revealing their true identities, internet users can be very aggressive in expressing their opinions. The negative side of this is the emergence of cyberbullies, trolls, and haters on the internet. The positive side, however, is the emergence of brand evangelists. Netizens, unlike internet users in general, are more likely to be brand evangelists.

In the internet world, we know the f-factors: followers, fans, and friends. When they are passionate about and emotionally committed to a brand, netizens become the f-factors. They become evangelists or lovers, as opposed to haters, of the brand. Sometimes dormant, they often become active when they need to safeguard their favorite brand against cyberbullies, trolls, and haters.

Further, evangelists are also storytellers of the brand who spread the news about brands to their networks. They tell authentic stories from a customer’s point of view—a role that advertising can never replace. As netizens who are more high-profile than other internet users, they yield a huge influence, often having a large number of their own followers, fans, and friends.

Netizens are also content contributors. They are called the internet citizens for a reason. Like good citizens contributing to their country, they contribute to the development of the internet. The work of netizens makes life easier for other internet users. With the use of tags, information on the internet is better organized and quality content becomes easier for others to search. By “voting” for websites, netizens recommend quality websites to others. With product ratings and reviews on the internet, other users can easily discover the best available choice.

The most important contribution, however, is to create new content, which can be in multiple formats: articles, whitepapers, e-books, infographics, graphic arts, games, videos, and even movies. Independent authors write Web pages, blogs, and e-books. Independent musicians and moviemakers create commercial hits by becoming YouTubers and creating content on the video-sharing platform.

With new content being created every second, the internet is becoming richer and more useful, which will benefit users and draw non-users to start using the internet. All these grow the netizen population as well as the value of the internet.

Growing exponentially on the basis of emotional and mutually beneficial connections, communities of netizens are the key to expand a brand’s heart share. When it comes to communal word of mouth, netizens are the best amplifiers. A brand message will flow along social connections if it receives the netizens’ seal of approval.

Summary: Youth, Women, and Netizens

Youth, women, and netizens have long been researched thoroughly by businesses but typically as separate customer segments. Their collective strength, especially as the most influential segments in the digital era, has not quite been explored. Youth are early adopters of new products and technologies. They are also trend setters, yet are fragmented as to the trends they follow. Ultimately they are game changers. As information collectors and holistic shoppers, women are de facto household managers, the chief financial officer, purchase manager, and asset manager all rolled into one. Finally, netizens are social connectors, as they overwhelmingly connect, converse, and communicate with their peers. They are also expressive evangelists as well as content contributors in the online world. Together, youth, women, and netizens hold the key to marketing in the digital economy.

(Source: Kotler, Philip., Marketing 4.0: Moving from Traditional to Digital)