That’s So 2011: Are Demographics a Thing of the Past?

Our Digital Marketing Agency Brings You Up-to-Date on How to Identify Your Target Audience

In a world full of unpredictability, there are a few things we as humans hold dear as sound, reliable constants in our lives.

Sliced bread, for instance. Or the knowledge that some iteration of Law & Order will always be on the air.

For the last five decades, this has held true in the world of advertising as well. Historically, brands large and small have been able to rely on the set of sure, dependable data points that we all know as demographics.

While demographic data – such as age, gender, employment status, household income, and more – have long been the golden standard for marketers everywhere, this information has fallen victim to new, more precise data points available to us, thanks to our burgeoning digital age of present. 

Demographics’ Downward Descent

illustration of a crowd of people in the shape of a circle with a small wedge set apartYou might be wondering why, after decades of being the go-to, demographics are losing traction so quickly.

It’s a valid query, and one which has a simple answer: customers crave personalization. 

With so much information at our fingertips, consumers have become experts at tuning out irrelevant content. It’s no longer enough to pump out messaging to a broad audience with a few key commonalities, hoping it’ll pique some interest. 

In fact, this may work against you in the long run, because, according to one survey by Boston Digital, more than 50 percent of consumers said they unfollow brands on social media if their content isn’t relevant to them. 

What’s more, in another survey by Adlucent, 71 percent of consumers said they prefer ads that are tailored to their specific interests and buying preferences. Seventy-five percent of those same respondents would prefer fewer ads that are better matched to their needs and interests.

Additionally, the prevalence and increasing use of smart technology has drastically changed the way consumers across generations interact and engage with brands.

Shifting Market Segmentation

Not sold on the idea? Let’s take a quick look at two of the most common demographic aggregators: age and location.

For the former, think about the current generations who are in the buyers’ universe:

  • Gen Z
  • Millennials
  • Gen X
  • Boomers

Each of these generations are, at their core, defined by the year in which someone was born (read: their age). Consider a household that has a working mother, a retired grandmother, and a teenaged daughter. These three women are likely to have some similar interests, and because they’re living in the same household, they also likely have overlapping needs as well. 

If you’re only aiming your ads at Gen X (the traditional “heads of household” at the moment), in this example, you’d be missing out on two-thirds of your target audience.

Of course, this is a simplified version of a more complicated digital marketing strategy, but you can easily see how categorizing consumers in this way results in your company missing out on huge opportunities to reach Millennials and Boomers who share similar interests, but not a similar age range.

Thanks to the use of technology, consumers across generations have buying power.

And now, let’s move onto location-based targeting, which is even simpler to explain away. It’s no secret that the digital age has resulted in an enormous e-commerce boom. This means that geographic audience segmentation is largely irrelevant, since anyone can buy a product online and have it shipped to them within a matter of days. For e-retailers, location simply doesn’t matter.

From What to Who: Demographics vs. Psychographics

simplified illustration of several doctors surrounding an oversized brain, studying itBy now, you’re probably thinking, We get it! Anyone can buy anything, anywhere, at any time. So how do we create personalized ad messaging for every single consumer?

Thankfully, the answer is simple. In the wise words of author Pooja Agnihotri, author of 17 Reasons Why Businesses Fail, “You have to spend a lot of time with your customers and competitors to know what’s going on in their lives. You don’t want to be the last one to know that your customers’ needs have changed and now they want to break up with your brand.”

Finding what your customers need and where they spend their time is easier now than ever before. Customers aren’t silent. They have constant access to the internet and other technology that can make a big impact. 

Customers are able to research businesses, compare options, or write a review of a business in less than five minutes. This is unprecedented in the history of consumerism, and a big advantage for business owners to gain insight. More often than not, customers are already telling you what they love and what they hate. 

Customers are people. They are individuals with unique personalities that don’t fit so neatly into specific segments that can be targeted.

Instead of trying to fit customers into easily defined segments, observe and interact with the reality of who your customers are. Business owners should step away from the computer and experience the business from the customer’s point of view before, during and after the buying process. This is where psychographic segmentation can help.

Nate Elliott, founder of Nineteen Insights, advises, “If you want to create messages that resonate with your audience, you need to know what they care about.”

Psychographic segmentation combines the psychology of consumer behavior with the idea of traditional segmentation. It takes into account common attributes, interest, values, activities and more to group similar customers into a segment. More and more customers expect a personalized experience when shopping online. Using psychographic data can help businesses target their customers for more personalized messaging.

The Moving Target Audience

illustration of many people's silhouettes as they push shopping carts, with one man in color in the middle with a bullseye on the floor around himLet’s go back to our previously mentioned household example with a working mother, retired grandmother, and teenaged daughter. As we mentioned before, traditional demographic segmentation may have your business missing out on two-thirds of that household.
Now imagine, each week the mother, grandmother and daughter gather around the TV to watch their favorite TV show, The Bachelor. If we segmented the audience using psychographic data, such as a shared interest in this reality program, all three women are included in it, and we now have the ability to serve them a personalized message. 

TLDR; Truly Understand Your Customer

Understanding your customer is more than just analyzing the demographic data of your audience. The data gives great insight into traits, but don’t miss the real person behind the data asking questions your business can answer. 

By segmenting your audience beyond demographic data, you can expand your customer service to a new level byond CRM software and analytics.  

Don’t get us wrong – demographic data certainly still has a place of value in a larger digital marketing strategy. This information serves as a great starting block in the process of identifying your target audience, but think of it as more of a prep step. 

Just as you’d prepare for a physical relay race – stretching, warming up, making your way to the starting line – you should also prepare similarly for the marketing relay.

Get Expert Advice

If the ever-changing digital market has you searching “marketing agency near me” on Google, iFocus Marketing can help.

We specialize in helping business owners across the country find their customers online and deliver personalized messaging that resonates. Contact us today to request a discovery call!

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