Fleas and Elephants: What Happens When a Market Niche Grows…and Grows

There’s an old joke that says the difference between fleas and elephants is that elephants can have fleas, but not the other way around. So what happens if your inexpensive little marketing tactic suddenly becomes very costly because the niche it is targeting has changed dramatically in scope? Whereas you were reaping a great benefit by adding lots of low-cost value, now your margin is the flea – and your costs are the elephant.

Banks across the country developed special rates and packages to attract and retain seniors more than a decade ago. But now that the big boomer bump is casting a large shadow, all that “free” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Many seniors expect the costliest level of service – face-to-face. Yet they aren’t seen by their banks as covering the costs of providing that. So rather than pass along the cost to their other customers, financial institutions are quietly cutting out their no-free privileges to this demographic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened quietly enough to avoid the attention of the press – which is resulting in some interesting stories about penalizing senior citizens and lifelong customers.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying, despite the pace of change accelerating the way it is these days, it’s still worth looking at your market strategically – thinking about long-term scenarios and deciding how you will respond if things don’t quite turn out as you’d planned. Come to think of it, if strategic decision-making had happened, maybe this surprise wouldn’t have happened. And it begs the question – marketers are developing all sorts of free products and services now, with the intention of monetizing them later. If you’re their target, which free things will you be willing to part with, if they’re not free any longer?

Looking for elephants disguised as fleas,

Megann and Steve


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