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Well before EJ McCarthy first expressed the 4Ps of marketing - product, place, price and promotion - marketers and those looking to promote their business have relied on demographics to understand their audience.
But those times are changing. Traditional demographic segmentations such as age, sex and location have become less useful as the lines between those categories blur. Today, we have skateboarding grandpas, Gen-Xers who can’t afford a house, and teenagers who don’t do digital. So what does that mean for small businesses looking to promote and market their wares to the public?
First, let’s look at the old ways.
What is a demographic?
Demographics are the ultimate categorisation tool. Sales and marketing theory tells us that knowing your audience by demographic can help you to understand your target audience, lower marketing costs, identify new opportunities, create unique selling points, and increase sales.
Using demographics, businesses could segment their audience into categories such as:
- Age ranges
- Job titles / employment status
- Family status
- Income level
How is this changing?
Changing lifestyles and the blurring of generations are making demographics less useful for businesses. That doesn’t mean they don’t still have a place in your strategy, but when targeting an audience it can be more useful to think of other ways to get their attention. This can include using things such as:
TrendWatching calls this age “post-demographic consumerism”. They say: “People - of all ages and in all markets - are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by “traditional” demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more…
“Now any and all revolutionary - or simply just compelling - innovations will be rapidly adopted by, and / or almost instantly reshape the expectations of, any and all demographics. Society is now too fluid, ideas now too available, the market now too efficient, the risk and cost of trying things now too low for this not to be the case.”
Instead of demographics, consider personas
Creating a persona for your target audience(s) can help you to truly understand who your business is targeting, and to develop your strategy, products and marketing with that specific person in mind. Personas merge the old and new way to segment, and help you to paint a portrait of your ideal customer.
There are some great templates and tools online that will help you to develop personas - including this well-used and incredibly useful offering from HubSpot - but the basics are simple:
- Give them a name
- Give them a job title
- Note some demographic information, such as age, sex and location (see - still useful!)
- Give them a personality through hobbies, lifestyle, reading habits, and so on
- Think of the goals and challenges they face
- Note their fears and values
- Then think of a marketing message that will resonate with them
Personas drive buyer action
It can work in unlikely ways too. Broadcaster CNBC International now uses just two audiences when targeting their content: “the influential” and “the aspirational”. The team found it helps their viewing numbers if they give insight that matters regardless of audience age, and shows you can target your marketing without thinking about age, sex and location.
It works for Netflix, too. Their VP of product innovation Todd Yellin has said: “As the borders between countries break down, we achieve greater fluidity in our attitudes towards traditional roles relating to gender and sexuality; and, as we become increasingly age-agnostic, generational generalisations become less and less relevant.”
Buyers are 48% more likely to consider solution providers that personalise their marketing to address their specific business issues, according to ITSMA. It shows your audience that you understand them and their needs, and that empathy brings interest in how you can help that audience achieve their goals.
So when considering your next marketing campaign or updating your business strategy, keep in mind that the traditional way to segment your audience may need another look. How far beyond age, sex and location can you take things?