niche experts

By Published on .

Carole Black

niche: women

A woman's place is in the home — watching TV during prime time. Thanks to Carole Black, president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services — which encompasses Lifetime Television, Lifetime Movie Network, Lifetime Real Women and — women are finally finding quality cable TV that reflects their view of the world. Black took the helm at Lifetime four years ago, and has proven that no matter how busy the modern woman is, she can still be reached through the medium of television. Under her leadership, Lifetime Television significantly increased its commitment to original programming, and last year it ranked No. 1 in the ratings among all basic cable networks, up from No. 6 in 1999.

Black has also helped Lifetime extend the reach of the Lifetime Movie Network to 36 million homes, from 25 million, and in August 2001 helped launch its third cable network, Lifetime Real Women, a 24-hour service. This month, the brand will enter the print medium with Lifetime Magazine, developed in conjunction with Hearst Magazines.

Between 1994 and 1999, Black was president and general manager of NBC4 in Los Angeles, the first woman to head a commercial television station in that market. Prior to that, she served as senior vice president of marketing, television at The Walt Disney Company, where she helped launch “The Disney Afternoon,� the highly successful children's programming franchise.

M. Isabel Valdés

niche: hispanics

In the February 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, a reader asks advice columnist Dame Edna whether she should learn Spanish. “People say that everyone will be speaking Spanish in 10 years,� she writes. Dame Edna's advice: “Forget Spanish. Who are you really desperate to talk to? The help?�

If Dame Edna's response was meant to be humorous, M. Isabel Valdés didn't find it at all amusing. “It is unbelievable to me that after all these years, there is still such ignorance,� says Valdés, who has dedicated her life to studying the needs of Hispanic consumers and teaching marketers how to reach this growing and influential segment of the population. “But as a researcher, I know that she represents a certain share of the American public.�

For more than 20 years, Valdés has conducted market research among Hispanics and worked as a marketing consultant to many Fortune 100 companies. In 1986, she founded market research firm Hispanic Market Connections (now called Cultural Access Group) in Los Angeles, where she developed standardized testing and language segmentation tools to help companies better understand Latino consumers' needs, regardless of their primary language. Most recently, she founded Isabel Valdés Consulting in Palo Alto, Calif. She has also written three books, the most recent of which is Marketing to American Latinos: A Guide to the In-Culture Approach, Part 2 (Paramount Market Publishing, 2002).

The “in-culture� approach to marketing, a term Valdés coined more than 15 years ago, asserts that reaching Hispanic consumers isn't about translating words into Spanish, but about creating messages that resonate with Hispanics. This requires knowledge about how long the individual has been in America and an understanding of his culture and life stage. “What makes us different as consumers,� says Valdés, “isn't just our color or race, but that we were raised in cultures that see the world very differently. Marketers, for whom reaching a particular demographic group would benefit their bottom line, need to put on the culture glasses, do the research and see their consumers for who they are, not who they think they are.�

Ken Dychtwald

niche: aging boomers

Ken Dychtwald has always enjoyed figuring out what makes people tick. By the age of 26, he'd written his first book, Bodymind (Pantheon, 1977), in which he explored the complex relationship between body type, personality and experiences, and offered strategies for finding deeper self-awareness. His work led him to a six-year stint with the National Institutes of Health as codirector of the Sage Project, a nonprofit social service organization that helped the elderly improve the quality of their lives by teaching them how to take charge of their mental and physical health. By the early 1980s, thanks to all the positive press that the Sage Project received, Dychtwald became a frequent lecturer at academic and business conferences, and a consultant to universities, hospitals and corporations.

The turning point in Dychtwald's career, he says, came in 1982, when he took a position as an advisor to the Office of Technology Assessment, a think tank for the U.S. Congress. He spent two years studying the impact of aging on life in America in the 21st century. “We dove right into the demographics, and that, frankly, rocked my world,� he says. “It's one thing to study aging in an effort to be thoughtful about the well-being of aging adults, but it's another to really realize how — thanks to increased longevity, a birth dearth and the aging of the Boomers — the entire makeup of the modern world was about to be transformed.�

Dychtwald realized, however, that businesses were not prepared for this transformation. At the time, there were very few people over the age of 50 portrayed in consumer advertising, and there were few campaigns targeted to older people. In 1986, seizing upon what he perceived as an untapped opportunity, he founded Age Wave, a consulting firm based in San Francisco that, to this day, works with Fortune 500 companies and government groups to develop products and services for aging Boomers and mature adults.

In addition to his consulting work and public-speaking engagements, Dychtwald remains involved in research that looks at the implications of demographics on consumer trends. Together with Harris Interactive and AIG SunAmerica, he recently completed work on a segmentation study of current and future retirees. He is also completing a collaboration with the Concours Group, an information technology and human resources consultancy, where he is leading the Demography Is De$tiny Project, a venture that is researching how demographic shifts will affect work force dynamics.

“We have shaped our world — everything from the height of steps, to the length of traffic lights at street crossings, to the structure and function of medical systems — to who we've always been. And who we've always been is young,� says Dychtwald. “But the age wave is coming fast. The youth-oriented world as we know it will soon be rendered obsolete.�

In His Own Words

In the next 25 years, one continuing trend we'll see from Boomers as they age is a blurring of gender roles and buying patterns. As this generation matures, it will be common for husbands to do the laundry and grocery shopping before preparing a scrumptious dinner while their wives are busy buying the computers and new cars and managing the family's investment portfolio. And because of the unprecedented independence of these women and their greater longevity, the long-standing ‘Noah's Ark’ social model — driven by heterogeneous pairs — will give way to more friendship-based buying networks as mature boomer women organize into investment circles, travel clubs and communal living arrangements.

Another trend that we'll see more of from Boomers is a desire for experiences over things. In their youth, Boomers were eager to buy a wide range of ‘things’ for pleasure status. However, as they pass their 50th birthdays and encounter the loss of loved ones, great successes or dismal failures in work and marriage, and possibly serious health scares, they begin to reflect on what matters most in life. Out of such examination emerges the realization that life's greatest joys derive not from seeing how many things we can fill our houses up with, but rather, from quality time with loved ones and friends, and from the enjoyment of vivid experiences. A shift from the desire for products to services will lead to an explosion in educational programs that stir the imagination, travel that broadens one's perspectives, entertainment that stimulates the mind, art that enraptures the spirit, religion that inspires the soul — and even new botanical or pharmaceutical substances that alter one's perception of reality.

Earl G. Graves

niche: african americans

Earl Graves's entrepreneurial dreams started at a very young age. “I was selling Christmas cards door-to-door at the age of seven,� says the 68-year-old chairman and CEO of the corporation that bears his name. “I knew early on that I wanted to make money.�

Graves's head for business has served him well over the years. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Morgan State University in Baltimore and went on to work as an administrative assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. But when Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Graves found himself suddenly unemployed. Despite offers from large corporations, he realized that the time was right to let his entrepreneurial spirit loose by going into business for himself. So he founded his own management consulting firm and began advising corporations on urban affairs and economic development. A year later, in 1970, he decided to launch a magazine targeted to black professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and policymakers. He called it Black Enterprise, and today the magazine has a paid circulation of 475,000 and a readership of more than 4.1 million.

“Historically, the mission of Black Enterprise magazine has been not only to track the economic and financial progress of African Americans, but also to provide them with the tools and resources to fully participate in the free enterprise system,� says Graves. In 2000, Black Enterprise launched its Black Wealth Initiative, a financial literacy and empowerment program to teach people strategies for saving and investing their money.

In addition to his work with his magazine, Graves served as chairman and CEO of Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., the largest minority-controlled Pepsi-Cola franchise in the country. He sold the franchise back to the parent company in 1998, but remains a significant stockholder and is now chairman of Pepsi's Customer Advisory and Ethnic Marketing Committee.

Robert Witeck and Wesley Combs

niche: gays

When Robert Witeck and Wesley Combs met at the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) annual dinner in 1990, neither expected to find a business partner, let alone a lifelong friend. At the time, Witeck was a senior vice president at public relations firm Hill & Knowlton Public Affairs, and Combs, a longtime marketing exec, was working at IBM. HRC, a nonprofit political organization for gays based in Washington, D.C., was a cause close to both men's hearts and one to which each had donated his public relations and marketing skills.

“We both knew that the key to improving the lives of gay and lesbian men and women was increasing the visibility of the segment, and that visibility was directly dependent upon how out people were in our society,� says Combs. “After we got to know each other, we realized that we shared this passion for turning our activism into a force that could impact the bottom line of companies.�

Three years later, they opened the doors in the nation's capital to Witeck-Combs Communications. For a decade now, their firm has worked with such companies as American Airlines, the Ford Motor Company and MTV to create marketing and media strategies that heighten brand awareness and increase market share among gay and lesbian consumers.

Witeck and Combs knew companies would not actively target this market unless they had quantifiable information on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) consumers. In the early 1990s, the only studies of the gay market had been conducted with small sample sizes among the white, urban, wealthy readership of gay publications. To obtain more accurate and objective market research, Witeck-Combs Communications created a partnership with Harris Interactive in 2000. Since then, it has released a steady stream of reliable and detailed information about this demographic group's media habits and consumer behavior.

In Their Own Words

In the next 25 years, health care will be near the top of the list of significant concerns among gay Americans. Our research over the past few years shows disturbing patterns for GLBT people who are not yet comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to their health care provider. Nondiscriminatory, sensitive and full access to health care ought to be the right of all Americans, and the more research we conduct on these issues, the more sure we are that the health status of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders will improve.

Raising children, no doubt, will be an even bigger priority for GLBT people in the next 25 years. While our research shows that 1 in 5 GLBT adults today are parenting, many more will choose to do so in the future. More gay households are likely to mirror their non-gay counterparts, putting aside money for college education, health care for infants and children, and family trips, among other needs.

Self-identification will only increase as more jurisdictions and workplaces provide protections for GLBT people in our country. The safer GLBT people feel, the more able they will be to come out and be honest about who they are. This means that the number of people who self-identify on opinion polls, in consumer research and through voter polling will increase, revealing that the GLBT community has even greater clout in our society. Marketers will be hard-pressed to ignore such a brand-loyal, visible segment of the population.

one to watch

Bill Novelli

This is not your grandmother's AARP. About four years ago, what was once the American Association of Retired Persons shortened its name to AARP in an effort to make its stodgy image more lively and young-at-heart. Since Bill Novelli was appointed as AARP's executive director and CEO in June 2001, he has continued to lead the organization's image makeover, with a particular focus on how the Baby Boomers are affecting, and will continue to affect, what aging means in this country. Novelli, who cofounded and formerly was president of renowned public relations firm Porter Novelli, is using his tenure at the AARP to help the U.S. prepare for this change. “America has to change, and change substantially, before Boomers begin to turn 65 in 2011,� he said in a speech to the National Press Club last November. “We need to change the partnership among government, the people and private institutions to help our citizens cope with the realities of life in the 21st century.�

Most Popular
In this article: