“Beehiving Buzz”

There’s been a major structural shift in community as America’s monolithic civic arena crumbles. In its place is the rise of small, tightly knit groups bound by shared interests or values — "beehiving."

A good example is the gradual breakdown of our country’s two-party political system with grass-roots groups wielding new influence.

Beehiving represents a new marketing paradigm. Companies might think of their target audience as a wildly diverse group of consumers sharing just one common trait — the use or potential use of their brand.

Saturn has done a great job of thinking of itself as a beehive. Every year it hosts a picnic for its customers, who probably have little in common except that each drives a Saturn. REI wins kudos for rallying outdoor enthusiasts around its brand and shopping experience. The retailer goes way beyond selling apparel and gear by creating a community via educational clinics and encouraging customers to swap adventure tales.

In many ways, this shift is for the better. Beehiving allows marketers to cross traditional demographic boundaries like gender, class and race. And instead of painstakingly matching a brand to a particular audience, marketers can concentrate on their brands’ core values. Example: Rather than promoting horsepower, speed or other tangible features, Harley-Davidson’s marketing revolves around the promise of values like "escape," "freedom" and "rebellion."

Tip: Position your product as a source of consumer community. And if you’re looking for a beehive and don’t know where to start, form alliances with other marketers whose brands’ values overlap yours.

Source: Larry Samuel, co-founder of Iconoculture, a Minneapolis-based trend forecasting company, and co-author of "The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be" (Riverhead Books, 1998).