Chasing the mythical “age demographic”

Chasing the mythical “age demographic”

In the nineties, when I was working at a media buying house, I was taught to ask the client “who their desired target audience was?”

In each situation, we assigned that target audience to a series of already established demographic categories – based entirely on gender and age.

Today, some clients, most media suppliers, and sadly a great majority of agencies still separate target audiences by these two basic, yet highly ineffective categories.

To explain why this simply does not work – let’s take a look at our own lives. We all know a number of people that could fall into common age categories. Of the women you know that would fit into the highly coveted age 25-44 years of age category, would you say that all of them have the same habits, the same interests and the same buying patterns? Could they (should they) easily be lumped into one buying category for all products and services?

Of course not – this is a diverse group of women with a varying list of interests and needs. Incredibly, companies and agencies still treat them as one category – every day.

Time and time again, it has been proven that age and gender categorization is not, on its own, an adequate means of identifying target audiences for any product or service. In reality, people have diverse interests and even more diverse buying habits.

Within the category of females age 25-44, we have women that are focused on high society and position; others that are minimalists; athletic, or homebodies; gardeners or adventurers; foodies or vegans; mothers or on their own; homeowners or living at home.

Not surprisingly, these groupings, and many others, can also be found in the 45-65-age category and the 18-24 categories as well. For example, a 47-year-old mother who plays rec league soccer will be in the same “buying group” as a 22-year female living at home – when it comes to soccer and/or athletic products.

Does it make sense then to continue marketing to people because of their age and gender? There is no question that it may be easier to place them in these categories and select media designed to reach those categories, but the reality is that today’s media options enable us to do so much more.

Marketers now have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to market to people based on their buying habits – not their age. In his book, Seth Godin (@thisissethsblog) called these common buying groups “Tribes”. A person can be part of a wide variety of tribes based on their buying habits, interests and needs. In our example, that rec league soccer mother would be in the same tribe as the 22-year-old for her athletic endeavours, but may not be in the same tribe when it came to her household preferences.

Marketing your product based on buying habits requires more work on the part of the marketer to define the relevant buying habits and to craft messages to appeal to these groups, but the results can be much more impressive. And there are a wide variety of new marketing vehicles that can help you access these groups cost effectively.

Continuing to focus only on age and gender (and continuing to sell this option to companies), is lazy marketing. But it is easy money for agencies and suppliers that have been placing every target audience in these easy-to-package categories for decades. If your agency or your media supplier is still pitching you on the mythical age demographic, you need to find a new supplier – immediately.