When it comes to ditching bullsh*t demographic labels, as Marketing editor Rachel Barnes analysed in her column last week, I agree– it’s time. Millennials? Silver Surfers? Gen Z? Labelling a cohort of people by age isn’t particularly clever or insightful and is side-lining marketers from talking to real people.
They must move away from buzzwords and seek a deeper understanding of this country’s DNA to create a genuine chemistry with consumers
A word of warning though to those about to hit delete on anything labelled "demographic": let’s not get carried away. Demographics done right are sophisticated, insightful and incredibly nuanced. They can help marketers understand the diverse communities that make up the UK and have a clear sense of how they live, what they strive for, what makes them happy and what pressures they face based on factors like affluence, lifestyle and interests.
In an increasingly digital and algorithmic world, where there is an abundance of transactional and behavioural data, it could be tempting to turn our backs entirely on demographics. But this is certainly not the answer if marketers want to put mindsets at the heart of their messages and genuinely get under the skin of consumer behaviour. Instead, they must move away from buzzwords and seek a deeper understanding of this country’s DNA to create a genuine chemistry with consumers.
Marketers are now in a position where integrating detailed demographics with online browsing behaviour is crucial for meeting the increasing consumer demand for personalisation that will take them that necessary extra mile in 2016.
Moving on from Millennials
So what do "good" demographics look like? Well, within the commonly used term Silver Surfers, for example, marketers need to know if they should be communicating with one of the 10 diverse groups that could fall within this broad category, which differ not just by income but by levels of property ownership, education, health and overall interests.
Millennials, on the other hand, can also be cut into one of 10 groups as diverse as career-driven property owners, or those with limited education and income. While age remains the common denominator, individual segments within a broader classification differ hugely in terms of those key points of lifestyle and affluence that are central purchase drivers – and this is what marketers need to get to grips with.
Monitoring of demographics at this rich level allows brands to see when a consumer segment is changing behaviour, for example, making more use of social media or spending money in different ways. So grannies loving Breaking Bad or senior directors admitting to liking Justin Bieber, as Barnes points to, do not come as a surprise to us.
Putting the person back in personalisation
Recent research from hybris shows that marketers are in fact still tending to target consumers primarily by age group - but 9 out of 10 of them are making personalisation a priority this year. The inherent contradiction here is surely proof that it is time for marketers to reassess their approach to demographics.
Transactional data gives you a glimpse of your customer. But it is a black and white sketch compared to the technicolour picture that layering them with demographic insights can provide. Once the picture is complete, marketers can then expand it to identify and reach potential new customers with a similar lifestyle to their most loyal ones, going beyond "look-alike" or even "shop-alike" to "behave-alike".
Meeting digital age demands in the real world
This convergence of demographics with behavioural and transactional data allows marketers to more effectively leverage the existing assets they have and make more valuable decisions. Financial services brands, for instance, are harnessing demographic insights to determine the right way to migrate their customers to new channels and services. Retail brands, on the other hand, are using demographics to better understand the footfall around individual stores to offer geo-targeted online advertising.
Using demographics like this isn’t as sexy as saying you’re launching a new video portal for Millennials, but it informs brand strategies in much more tangible ways. A revival of the use of sophisticated demographics is on the horizon, but only when used in the right way in conjunction with other data traits, not as a shortcut for marketers to pump out blanket campaigns.
With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation due to come into force in the next two years, detailed demographics that boost the value of a brand’s own data more than cocky catchphrases are going to become more pertinent than ever for marketers. Brands need to be able to paint a vivid, varied portrait of what our nation looks like to start talking to, rather than just marketing to, real people. Buzzwords be banished, once and for all.