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Brands love to segment consumers, chopping and slicing demographics into thin slivers that define attitudes, behaviors and the like. Interestingly, the principle of creating such segments was founded long before the digital age, and often, the segments themselves are reflective of the industrial era—juxtaposed against our modern, savvy, hyperconnected culture. This can result in a dangerous and counterproductive generalization among groups of individuals.
Every marketer has encountered segmentation at some point in his or her life. Think of a color cosmetic brand marketer who targets the fashion blogger who creates her own colors and trends, versus the middle-aged professional who shops for neutrals, versus the college girl who keeps things spunky within a budget, versus the grandma who wants to keep things easy but fashionable, versus the stay-at-home mom who likes to experiment. The first question that comes to mind is, have these segments been updated for modern times? And second, do they really differ so much that marketing strategies need to be tailored to each one of them? There is a fine line between responding to your market and generalizing based on what your research is telling you.
Understanding your consumers is a critical exercise for marketers, and every brand has its own target market that more often than not covers a large demographic. Overt segmentation has led marketers to become trapped in silos, overlooking what their market is telling them or ignoring populations that are willing to try their products. As such, age is one demographic distinction that merits a closer look.
Today, 75 is the new 55, owing to upsurges in technology, beauty, medication and increased life expectancy. So-called “senior citizens” are active and enjoy exploring, learning new things, starting or contributing to new business ventures, and are generally eager to continue fulfilling their dreams. And, not surprisingly, over 75% of wealth is owned by those over 651, making them a target too risky to ignore.
Millennials wield the largest share of purchasing power ($2.45 trillion by 20152) and thus represent a prime target. Convenience, gadgets and a plethora of brands are de rigueur for their daily well-being. And so-called “youths” also are learning things faster than previous generations, with global and social awareness levels peaking in earlier years.
Due to the differences between consumers of different ages, marketers must be careful to understand who they are speaking to when crafting claims. In this case, a claim is a concise statement about a product or brand designed to drive consumer choice by calling upon desires or aspirations through the value it promises. But how a claim is phrased by a marketer and perceived by a consumer likely will depend on the age of the intended audience.
Imagine a hair care brand is trying to decide how to communicate the benefits of a hair loss reduction product, a market that totals around $3.5 billion per year3 and caters to a vast demographic of consumers. By nature, the product is one that rids users of the unpleasantness of balding. If the claim is being used to attract older consumers, it may focus on the prevention of the “negative” event of thinning hair. Older consumers are more willing to come to terms with the unpleasant aspects of life and therefore are more responsive to related communication efforts. However, a more positive approach emphasizing thick and healthy hair is more likely to appeal to younger consumers who are less concerned about hair loss but may well experience it. Michelle Obama recently said “…a lot of young people think they’re invincible.”4 In marketing terms, younger people often have yet to experience many “negatives” and therefore do not want to be reminded of them. Thus, it is critical for marketers to understand how to best communicate positivity to these consumer types.
Marketers also must bear in mind the evolving psychographics that distinguish these generations. Take, for instance, the desire to own versus the desire to rent. With approximately 60% of those who attend college amassing debt to cover education costs, and with student loan debt totaling near $1 trillion,5 many young consumers see buying as merely adding on debt to looming student loans. There also has been a drop in the percentage of younger people (below 40) getting a driver’s license, whereas older people tend to keep their license even as they age.6 The rise of social sharing programs, a global environmental push that urges public transportation and the transient nature of youth converge to create a decrease in the desire to own.
This means the mindset has shifted to the temporary rather than the permanent, and marketing must focus on providing benefits now. A marketing message only has a few moments to impact a purchasing decision, which means the articulation is absolutely vital. Starting a claim with no-value filler language can mean the difference between a sale and a lost customer.
While filler language is destined to be less effective with the older segment too, they are more receptive to benefits that may be longer lasting. For instance, when marketing a moisturizer, a time-sensitive message such as “Absorbs instantly for healthy, moisturized skin” may work well as it relays the key benefit (time) first and adapts to a youthful lifestyle. An older segment also may benefit from the speed of absorption, owing to the changing attitudes of this demographic. However, something along the lines of “Long-lasting relief from dry skin with instantly absorbing moisturization” may be more reassuring.
Furthermore, this shift in mindset also influences message placement. Creating a commercial to be shown during a primetime cable show is likely to draw the attention of an older target audience, but YouTube now reaches more U.S. adults between 18–34 than any cable network.7 And as people rely more and more on public transportation, instant and on-demand access to content, and other “temporary” means to live, marketers must adapt by placing their messages around these new consumption habits. Marketers have to broaden their advertising distribution to better target the audience and to address that audience at a variety of touchpoints.
With more traditional mediums such as TV and radio spots targeting older consumers, younger consumers can expect to see more ads placed in areas of public transportation and sponsored ads and video clips on social networks.
The continued rise of social networking has made a dramatic impact on marketing too. With 2014 marking the 10th year of Facebook and the 8th year of Twitter, it’s no surprise the younger generation has literally grown up using these as synonyms for information seeking and sharing. Although social media still skews younger for now, with 90% of those between the ages of 18–29 using social media compared to only 46% of those 65+ doing the same,8 there is evidence older consumers are migrating to social media. The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is between 45–54 years old, while the 55–64 year age bracket is the fastest growing on Twitter.7