Ease of reaching niche groups

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The internet makes it far easier to reach people with particular interests or needs than has traditionally been possible. The private sector has exploited this by selling products and services to niche markets (eg small groups of people with specialist requirements). This represents a shift away from targeting the mainstream end of the ‘demand curve’ (eg the limited number of products with mass appeal) towards targeting ‘the long tail’ (eg the very large numbers of products with niche appeal).

What are the implications?

  • Individuals can more easily find the information, support, products and services that they need
  • Niche groups are often geographically dispersed, meaning that more individuals will access information and support from people in other areas or different countries
  • VCOs can more easily provide more personalised support to niche groups, even if geographically dispersed (see personalisation of services)
  • This requires more sophisticated use of data in order to understand and segment user groups (see aggregation and storage of data)
  • The long tail suggests that there will be more smaller groups in the sector
  • Organisations working across many topic areas will need to provide more tailored services or users will find more appropriate support elsewhere

Moving forward

Being able to meet the needs of niche groups requires good data management. What data do you collect about the needs and preferences of your users? Have you done a market segment analysis (eg looking at particular groups within your users who have common needs?)

Could your organisation consider changing its communication strategy to focus more on tailored communications with niche groups? What resources would this require? What would the benefits be for your users?

The internet has supported the emergence of many niche groups. Are you aware of who else is working on similar issues, perhaps informal online networks? What should your strategy be in relation to them?

Want to know more?

Does the Internet open up opportunities for disabled people?

Published by: The Joseph Roundtree Foundation

Date: 2004

Format: Web

What is it? A summary of a study looking at the impact of the internet on the lives of disabled people in the UK.

How useful is it? Although now five years old, this study provides an important reminder of the need to make online services accessible to all, as well as providing some insight into how technology can improve the lives of people who may otherwise be marginalised in Society.

Other comments:

Digital Divide in the UK?

Published by: The Royal Geographical Society, 21st Century Challenges programme

Date: 2009

Format: Video

What is it: A discussion of whether the internet's rapid evolution and increasing role in daily life threaten to leave some sections of society behind.

How is this useful? The video series includes an introductory video exploring the meaning of digital inclusion, and also an exploration of how young people are using the internet, and the risks and benefits involved. There is also a panel discussion including internet entrepeneur Martha Lane Fox, and questions from the floor.

Other comments:

Last updated at 16:01 Wed 23/Feb/11.

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I wonder if the Third Sector is ready for the Long Tail? The Long Tail is all about disintermediation – cutting out the middleman (or woman). In a world in which the Internet enables donors to deal directly with beneficiaries, what is the compelling rationale behind the charity business model?
I would be happy to chair a roundtable on this if any others are interested.

Megan 's picture

Megan

Third Sector Foresight

That’s an interesting question Stephen. The ‘disintermediation’ question came up many times when we were working on the ICT Foresight project. In relation to giving we concluded that intermediaries would not necessarily be cut out, but that new kinds of intermediaries would be required. Here is the relevant extract from ICT Foresight: charitable giving and fundraising in a digital world (download PDF)

Future organisational models

This report has explored how the internet can facilitate connections between donors and organisations, and between donors and beneficiaries. It has also explored how the internet can potentially empower donors to make an informed choice about which organisation to support, to choose where to direct their money, and to use their networks to fundraise for organisations. If indeed power does shift away from organisations and towards individuals then this will raise questions about the most effective models that organisations can use to direct donations towards their work on the ground. As Nick Booth and Andy Dearden discuss, some organisations may shift from being deliverers to facilitators and market makers:

Nick: What we’re describing in terms of the network means that charities become a couple of things: firstly a safe place to store money, and secondly a network to distribute other resources, but not much else. In the future you could imagine a model whereby beneficiaries are telling the stories and are nominating a safe place to store donations, so they’re saying ‘if you want to help us please do it through this mechanism’. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a charity, it could be a bank. Obviously there are issues with this model but it could mean that potentially the role of charities is shifting or there’s a gap for a new kind of charity.

Andy: If we go back to the comparison with ecommerce we can learn from what Tescos do. Tescos don’t buy products to sell; they rent out shelf space to their suppliers who then compete. The Tesco brand operates simply to bring people to the market place; they’re the market makers.

Nick Booth and Andy Dearden (roundtable discussion, June 2007)

These new intermediaries already exist. Chipin.com provides a safe place to store money, raised for any purpose. Realitycharity.com connects donors directly to individuals requiring help. In the future VCOs may need to become aggregators of projects and allow donors more choice over who they give their money to, or else risk new intermediary organisations, which may not even be charities, moving into the gap.

This is arguably the greatest challenge charities face in the coming years. Those that are ready have the opportunity to become aggregators – the ‘gatekeepers’ of social impact.

I’d be very keen to get involved in further discussion on this topic.

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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