Consumers are more individualized than ever, expecting every good, service and experience to be addressing their unique and oh so important selves.

Gone are the traditional demographic segments, the distinct consumer classes: this is all about being MASTERS OF THE YOUNIVERSE. Gone too are the days when, as BusinessWeek so eloquently put it; “the ideal was not merely to keep up with the Joneses, but to be the Joneses.” In a NOUVEAU NICHE world, where the demise of institutions and their stifling conventions has unlocked latent hyper individualization, where it is all about ‘me’ (for better or worse), where being special will lend consumers status, to be mass is now every consumer’s nightmare. Witness GRAVANITY, witness MASSCLUSIVITY. Even the few mass objects of desire that still manage to unite large groups of consumers — iPods, Nokia handsets, or the Mini Cooper — are likely to be customized and personalized the moment they leave the warehouse, website or store.

Consumers are also more experienced than ever. They expertly cut through the crap, ignore advertising, and know which quality and price levels are fair. They actively hunt for the best of the best, and the best of the best is often NOT mass. (The only mass they’re willing to put up with is the stuff they don’t really care about and can get on the cheap at Aldi or WalMart). As Chris Anderson, author of the excellent Long Tail article points out, the only reason mass used to equal ‘hit’, had to do with the now outdated perception that if something sells well, it must certainly be good. Now, with consumers not only being comfortable wandering further from the beaten path, but the beaten path also being much easier to leave (thank you WWW), they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought. Mass popularity was based more on what was available (think mass marketing budgets, limited physical shelf space, limited broadcasting channels, and a nearly complete lack of transparency), than on absolute laws of nature that dictated ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

More here.