In Defense of Demographics

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Legacy population metrics may be down, but they’re not out

For several years now marketing experts have been discussing the death of the “mass market” and the rise of the so-called “nanomarket” – where broad categories are no longer sufficient for understanding, predicting or influencing consumer behavior. These are the same voices who have been sounding the death knell for legacy population metrics with provocative headlines like “Why Only Stupid Marketers Use Age As A Demographic.

As one blogger noted:
“Today’s marketplaces are individualized, customized, and personalized … [M]arketers know that old demographic targeting isn’t working for them.

It gives them nothing.”

Indeed, in place of standard demographics, new data collection and analysis technologies and the rise of the social Web are helping companies create more organic “lifestyle profiles” by using psychographic marketing techniques to cut across standard demographics like age and gender and develop new categories of consumers. That being said, it’s premature to discard old-school demographics entirely from a marketing toolkit.

It’s true that broad, age-specific demographics have lost their potency; but while demographics may seem cumbersome in an age of social media and targeted analytics, an understanding of “mass market” trends can still provide retailers with actionable intelligence, especially when it is applied in tandem with more cutting-edge solutions. In this model, legacy demography acts like a bulldozer, capturing large but relevant trend data that can be further mined using precision applications.

For instance, a recent survey commissioned by Publicis Groupe’s Digitas found that LGBT individuals exhibit a greater degree of familiarity with mobile devices than seen in the general population, and gays and lesbians are twice as likely to use mobile shopping technology than their straight counterparts.

Another new study finds that educated, upper-income 35- to 44-year-olds are the fastest growing segment of tablet owners. And a plethora of data show that the photo-sharing platform Pinterest is especially appealing to females – who account for more than 80% of global users.

For marketers committed to advancing mobile and social media strategies, all three of those seemingly bland demographic variables can help refine strategic direction by offering hints about what platforms are likely to be most effective, and where and how they should be focused. Demographics are perfect for this kind of heavy lifting.

The introduction of new tools doesn’t necessarily make old tools obsolete. In the era of Twitter and Facebook, precision marketing has made consumer fragmentation the norm, and brands are eager to narrow their message as much as possible using the new tools at their disposal. But while Big Data and social media analytics are giving companies the ability to create more nuanced categories based on purchasing preferences, it’s still easier to cut down a tree with an ax than a scalpel.

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