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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2014

Mass-market, Relevance, and Niches

I had a discussion over at Twitter about relevancy and mass-markets. It's such a complicated thing to explain (especially in the size of a tweet), because we usually don't define these things the same way.

For instance, take 'mass market', what is that?

There are two very different ways to define that. One way is to define it in terms of the volume of people using your product. For instance, Coca Cola is most certainly a mass market product in terms of volume, despite it also being a highly niche product (it's a very specific taste, soft fizzle drink, and non-alcoholic).

The other way to define mass market is to look at how it is targeted. For instance, a company that makes toilet paper might not have the same volume of sale, but its product-targeting is so vague that they are trying to make it appeal equally to everyone. In other words, it's the opposite of Coca Cola... and yet, in terms of targeting it has a mass-market focus.

You see how difficult it is to discuss these things when our definitions don't match?

So what about relevancy. As you know this is something I have been writing about many times before, but our discussion today started when +Avinash Kaushik posted: "Irrelevance is plentiful. Relevance is scarce (and precious). Choose wisely."

Which is something I completely agree with.

But then +Gabriel Gheorghiu weighed in by saying: "but relevance is subjective, isn't it? What's relevant to you may be irrelevant to me."

Which is very much true. As I replied: "Ahh... but that is the whole point of relevancy. It is always personal."

But now, of course, we have the trouble. If relevancy is what you should focus on, which is always specific to the individual, "then how can brands like Apple, Coca Cola, etc create mass-market relevance?", as Gabriel put it.

Great question.

And this is why our definitions of a mass-market is so important. If you define mass-market in terms of targeting (like with toilet paper), you can't. Relevancy and mass-market exist at opposite ends of the spectrum.

But Coca Cola and Apple aren't mass-market products in terms of targeting. Both are highly targeted products whom have achieve such high levels of popularity that they have gained mass-market appeal in terms of volume.

That's a big difference.

And this is where the difference in relevance comes into play. There are two types of relevancy. One type is what you achieve when you are specifically targeting what people think they want. The other form of relevancy is when you create something that people want to become.

And Coca Cola and Apple are in the 'ohh.. I want that too!' type of relevancy. They have created a need that people didn't knew they wanted, and through both their products and marketing efforts have convince an astonishing amount of people that this is just the right product for them.

They created a need, which gave them a mass-market form of relevancy.

However, if you don't create a need, but are merely filling a need, your market is unlikely to ever be a mass-market one.

And this leads us to the definition of a niche. There are two ways to define that as well.

One way is to define niche as in the size of the market. For instance, I'm targeting brand marketing and publishing execs/professionals on my site. This is a fairly small market (and not even remotely close to that of Coca Cola :))

The other way to define a niche is in terms of the purpose of your product. Tesla, for instance, has created a niche car with the Tesla Model S. But they are selling it like cupcakes because while it's a very specific product, it's so wonderful that everyone wants to have one.

So, either you target a niche, or you create a niche that people want to be in on.

And, obviously, the most profitable strategy is to not only create a need but also create a niche, and then be really good at it, in a very clear way. This may convince billions to get in on it, and there you have your mass-market based on being relevant.

If you can't do that, the next best solution is to focus on the highest level of outcome within your much smaller volume, or as Avinash replied: "Built into it is also the idea that maybe you don't want 1m irrelevant people. 10k loyal relevance folks are ok."

This is the strategy that I'm aiming for on my site. My product and purpose will never have mass-market appeal, because I'm targeting it to a specific group with a specific need. So for me, it's more profitable to have 10K loyal visitors, than 1 million mass-market (but non-relevant) ones.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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