Demographics are dead.
Yeah, I said it!
I cannot take full credit for this revelation. Many before me have professed the death of the demo. Besides, why would some like me—a person who goes buck banoodles when people say that [enter a tactic/designation/aspect of marketing here] is dead—say such a thing? Especially when a marketer and author whom I respect, Danny Brown, recently wrote about the perils of making such grandiose statements or claims. I promise, there is reasoning and logic in the following paragraphs that help prove my claim that demographics are indeed dead. Let me set the scene:
You’re sitting in a meeting with a potential or actual client – a meeting that is early on in your engagement with said company. You’re asking additional questions to gain more insights about this company’s brand – not their product or service offering, their brand – and they say we serve or are targeting people of [enter race or ethnicity here] origin between the ages of x to x + 15 (who said you wouldn’t use algebra in real life?) or, better yet, they tell you that they want to reach millennials. When this happens, and it likely will at some point, your next question should be the following:
Don’t you just want to connect with those who like [product or service]?
If you ask this question in particular, you have taken the first step in realizing that demographics mean very little in this day and age and here’s why.
Demographics were never enough, but it's all we had
To begin, demographics surfaced at a time when the information contained within was the pinnacle of marketing data. Time and money were the biggest barriers to gaining full access to consumer data. Yes, we had focus groups, but the sample size was generally too small to gain insight past general demographic data. Conversely, today new modes of communication through technology provide ubiquitous data points and the amount of intelligence within bridge the gap between what we may have thought about people of similar age or background due to generalities and what people actually think. Thus, with new information, we must think in a new, non-stereotypical way. Demographics must go away because they are entirely too broad, especially with the data available nowadays.
The best thing about Millennials
Any significantly perceived notions about millennials notwithstanding, here are some facts, supported by data from various studies ranging from Nielsen, to Forbes, to asking those in that age group around us, that should make you think:
What is important to millennials?
· Connections are important to millennials;
· Millennials want to make a difference or otherwise have positive impact on their lives and the lives of others;
· If they are interested in a brand they expect or want to have some sort of involvement or at the very least be heard;
· They want products or services that fit them; and
· They are inspired by those they can relate to.
I defy anyone reading this list important things to say that they don’t want the same in life. No matter your age or background, I’m willing to be that these human values are ones with which you would or do align yourself. This handful of facts simply proves that millennials are, in many ways, the same as everyone else—in other words, they are simply people. They are still not falcons. The fact that technology has always been part of their lives does not make them less human than you, me or anyone else.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, when it comes to branding (and marketing in general), what does actually matter?
Identities and networks matter
As mentioned earlier, technology has availed us access to tons and tons of data, the kind that informs us of people’s needs, desires, wishes, likes and dislikes. This amount of data gives us the opportunity to learn more about people at a granular level. That is to say, we are now able to understand what people relate to—we can now understand people’s identities.
Identities are important because an individual’s identity drives their behavior. Each and every one of us are many things and all of those elements, when put together, make us who we are. Our identities shape how we act, how we speak, what we want and what we like.
Furthermore, because there are multiple aspects to each of our identities, our networks—the groups of people with whom we share our time, attention and interests—are the place where we get much of our information. In other words, networks help curate all of the content that we as individuals consume. Also, when it comes to sharing information, while there is often overlap in the type(s) of information we share with everyone that we know, there are certain types of information that a select few are privy to. For example, it is likely that you don’t tell your co-workers everything that you tell your family. Our friends, colleagues and families are definite in determining the way we display our identities. Thus, networks help define our behavior.
This is the type of data we have available to us today and this is the data that we should be studying, gaining insights from and using to make smart business decisions.
Understanding traditional marketing principles is a wonderful thing. These principles remind us what a marketer’s job is:
our job in marketing is to study and understand human behavior in order to persuade people to purchasing that which we have to offer
Perhaps we as marketers got distracted at all of the shiny new tactics and toys at our disposal at times and even lost focus on what is most important because of it. Nevertheless, it is time that we remember what it is that we do, collect the data that helps us figure out what to do and then use the tools we have to execute.
The concept itself is simple, especially since we now have more information. And for all you music lovers out there, yes, this post was partially inspired by De La Soul.