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Niche Networks Don’t generalize. Specialize. Microsoft Digital Trends. Big opportunities

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Don’t generalize. Specialize.

Microsoft Digital Trends

Big opportunities

Niche Networks dovetail perfectly with entertainment, retail, CPG, technology, and fashion brands. Looking beyond the mega-systems, brands can find specialist networks where people are already listening. Brands should think locally to make intimacy and closeness a priority when building relationships with customers. In the long term, brands could even create their own networks of activists or hobbyists.

So now…?

Retailers are starting to employ experts with niche interests that complement their brand – for example, DIY home improvement enthusiasts at hardware stores or consumer tech fans in electronics stores.

What if…?

Brands could leverage the existing interests and passions of employees within their company giving them the power to become marketers within their Niche Networks. These marketers would be rewarded for talking about the brand in authentic ways and for being ambassadors on the brand’s behalf.

Consumers created personalized virtual villages, populated with a handful of dedicated services that are unique to the individual, curating their own personal experience. This would put them in control rather than trapping them within a single system.

Exhausted and overwhelmed by mega-systems, consumers are turning toward smaller, more tailored, more intimate, localized networks to fulfill their online needs. One-stop-shop solutions are losing out to private and personalized alternatives, as consumers look for relevance and excellence above all else.

The noisy and impersonal nature of big networks is becoming a turn off, particularly now that brands target users in these settings. More and more, we want to enjoy the kind of specialty that niche networks provide.

We want powerful connections to the things we love

Key measures

41% of global online consumers are using specialist social networks that are dedicated to their precise needs, choosing these experiences over generalist services.

While 15% are engaged with multiple specialist networks, suggesting even wider shifts in attitudes toward local and niche experiences that are playing out online.

And 53% of respondents are more likely to interact with a brand if they make genuine connections with their specific interests and needs.


How did we find all this out?

The Microsoft Digital Trends study was several years in the making but commenced in earnest in January 2013 when Microsoft Advertising partnered with IPG Mediabrands and The Future Laboratory to help brands understand the future of digital behavior and technology.

To align with Microsoft’s consumer-first vision, our ambition was to uncover, capture, and track emerging digital consumer behaviors and attitudes that we believe will grow into a global phenomenon.

Combining expertise with common research practices across Microsoft Advertising; Microsoft Business Groups; Microsoft Research; and Microsoft Office Envisioning, we created actionable brand toolkits. These can be used by key clients and internal teams to instruct media planning and product development based on consumer data.


Taking the lead from Everett M. Rogers’ theory of Diffusion of Innovations, which identifies that new ideas are adopted and passed from early adopters to the majority and laggards, we undertook a series of qualitative and quantitative steps.

Qualitative exploration

Interviews with 45 early adopters were conducted across the UK, USA, China, Brazil, Sweden, and Czech Republic, covering a range of topics including

  • changing behavior and attitudes to technology and digital services.

  • All respondents completed a three-day online diary exploring the role of tech/digital services in their lives prior to taking part in in-depth interviews to provide further understanding of their motivations, behaviors, and attitudes to these technologies.

  • These “switched on” consumers were both males

  • and females between the ages of 18 and 44.

  • One-hour interviews with experts across Microsoft and IPG Mediabrandswere also undertaken.

  • Quantitative exploration

  • An online survey with regular and heavy Internet users in UK, USA, China, Brazil, Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, and Germany was conducted. We interviewed circa 1,000 respondents in each market, 8,055 in total.

  • We measured their awareness, engagement, and intent to participate with trends in the future, as well as their likelihood to engage with brands who deliver experiences that align with these trends.

  • Further validation of the trends and their brand implications were captured through a series of workshops with Microsoft and IPG Mediabrands.

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