It’s a post-demographic world and we’re just living in it.
Grand, sweeping statement: targeting customers by generation and demographics is myopic. Both are perfectly fine organisational tools; it’s useful to know who’s actually buying your brand, and see where you’re over-indexing compared to the general population. However, for all we hear about the necessity of collecting millennial or Gen Z audiences like rare Pokémon, the actual benefit to business or brand of using this form of segmentation is rarely proven. That’s because demographic targeting assumes there are universal truths connecting the people within in each segment – “all millennials demand x” or “all women believe y” – and that’s an overly simplistic view of how people view themselves, as well as the way they engage with brands.
At this point, in the early-ish days of 2018, every demographic demands authenticity, every generation has some degree of digital nativity, and whether they’re 20 or 50 or middle-aged single dads, they’re an always-on, convenience-crazy, demanding set of consumers.
So, what’s a brand to do? Go post-demographic.
Don’t throw away demographics completely, but consider them as the start, rather than the destination of your customer-shaping journey. Looking at consumers from a post-demographic lens forces brands to stop making assumptions about how a segment should behave or buy. Rarely do consumers act how brands predict they will anyway – to paraphrase Byron Sharp, it’s almost like they haven’t read the marketing plans brand teams and agencies put together.
Despite this, despite the fact that we know people will act like people, and not pre-defined ‘consumer segments’, most brands and companies use demographics as their end point. It’s easy and clear-cut and allows for the creation of easily digested customer segments on the part of the internal team. This creates a massive opportunity for brands that are bold enough to reject this line of thinking and seek to understand what it is consumers actually want and what it is their brand can offer.
A brilliant example of post-demographic targeting comes to us from Planned Parenthood in the United States. On the App store, there are literally hundreds of period-tracking apps. Uniting nearly all of them are two things – they have a primary functionality for timing ovulation and they are designed with a primary colour scheme of pink. Using demographic targeting, this all makes sense. In 2015, millennial women made up 82% of births in the US1, so there is a clear business opportunity to be had in helping them get pregnant. As for the pink, much like strictly demographic targeting, it’s a lazy way of saying ‘we’re for women’.
Sensing a fundamental flaw in this manner of targeting, Planned Parenthood sought rather to identify what women actually want from a period-tracking app, as opposed to merely looking at the demographics of who was using the existing tech. While it’s true more than 8/10 pregnancies are by millennial mothers (and that number is growing), women are also putting off pregnancy until later – with the average age at first-time birth being just over 26. In fact, their consumer research found that the average woman actually spends 30 years of her life trying not to get pregnant. Armed with that knowledge, Planned Parenthood created Spot On, a simple app developed specifically for women of reproductive age who don’t want to get pregnant. Also, it uses a colour scheme that is not explicitly gendered, offering a clear welcome to non-gender-conforming people who have periods. The people using the app may cross clean demographic lines, but they are connected by an underlying consumer desire – to not get pregnant – that Planned Parenthood very helpfully has the expertise to support.
Upending the status quo may seem quite radical, but given the proliferation of data-tracking technology, the rising popularity of 1:1 marketing, and the constant consumer demand that brands understand them intrinsically, post-demographic targeting is smart money for brands looking to build preferential consideration with anyone.
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