Audiences as Behaviors, not Demos

Too often marketers seeking to understand consumers jump to the lazily convenient classification of “generations” – the socially minded Gen Zers from 1997-2012, to the tech-savvy millennials of 1981-1996, to the out-of-touch boomers of 1945-64. While this is a comfortable shorthand, it is shared language marred with myths and inconsistent assumptions.

Let’s take millennials: Do we really think everybody born from 1981 to 1996 are Instagram-loving, Airbnb-hopping, city slickers? How similar are Mark Zuckerberg with Cardi B or Usain Bolt, or even Kim Jong Un? From a single generation you can find people in very different life stages or undergoing very different historical events; some are working parents climbing the career ladder, while others are still in school, going back to school, or abandoning their 9-5 for untraditional pursuits.

When marketing a product or service it is much more productive to consider shared attitudes, purchase behaviors in category, and awareness that does not discriminate by age. This is maybe less convenient versus generations, as it requires access to surveys and syndicated research tools to define novel audiences against your product or service. The outcome, however, is more actionable. When done well you can find pockets of consumers that share meaningful perceptions of your products, and you can set your marketing agenda to shift those perceptions.

So, next time someone is peddling consumer analysis that starts with generational marketing, demand better. It’s about time we stop talking about demographics and start talking about behaviors.

Photo Credit: Alessio Jacona from Rome, Italy, CC BY-SA 2.0

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