It’s time to rewrite the marketing rules on age and generation

Laura Demasi outlines why marketers need to rewrite the rulebook for how they understand consumers based on age and generation.

The ‘script’ of how we live our lives has traditionally been defined by age and life stage – and the social and cultural expectations of what we should be doing as we ‘grow up’ and ‘grow older.’

Yet age and life stage no longer hold the 
same relevance. The traditional milestones that defined all of
 the life stages are either no longer relevant or ‘delayed;’ millennials are either shunning or delaying the traditional markers of adulthood, and midlife now extends well into the 50s.

The 60s are now more like a throwback to the carefree 20s than a time for winding down, while ‘old age’ doesn’t really begin till the mid 80s.

The implications of this overhaul of the very notion of age, life-stage and even ageing present enormous challenges. Getting the value proposition and the tone of your brand nuanced just right is more difficult than ever. If you are off, customers will dismiss you as irrelevant because you aren’t in tune with the new reality of their lives.

Millennials, we already know, are leading the pack when it comes to re-writing the rules on life stage. They are very consciously reinventing the guidebook on a ‘good’ life amid a backdrop of downward social mobility. A steady job, home ownership and long-term financial security are becoming less relevant, viewed as the ‘old’ measures of a successful life, replaced by ‘being happy,’ ‘feeling fulfilled’ and collecting ‘experiences’ rather than stuff.

Related: Airbnb CMO on maintaining millennial cool while adding families to the brand’s list of target demographics »

“A lot of people are stuck in the grind,” said one millennial who participated in the latest Ipsos Mind and Mood study, ‘Australia 4.0′

“What’s that saying? ‘Died at 22, buried at 75.’ For me life is about being connected to what you want to do, being able to be who you want to be. My goal is not to work, pay bills and die. That’s not life. It’s modern day slavery. It’s bullshit.”

But millennials aren’t the only cohort whose life trajectory is ‘delayed’. Today’s 50-something is more likely to be in the throes of ‘mid life’ and ‘peak stress’ rather than starting to think about winding down and preparing for retirement as their parents’ generation were likely doing at this stage of life.

Half of those aged 50-59 in Australia still have children living at home: one-in-five have children under 18 years living at home, while close to one-in-10 have children under 12 years of age.

Meanwhile many others still have ‘older’ children under the family roof; 28% have 18-24 year-olds at home and 11% have 25-29 year-olds at home.

On top of a full house, today’s 50-somethings have the pressure of mortgages and busy full-time jobs to contend with. An empty nest and even the long-term prospect of retirement are still far away for most. As one 50-something research participant said; “Retirement is an impossible dream. I’m still paying school fees and a mortgage. One of the kids is still in primary school. I’ve got a bloody long way to go.”

By the 60s everything changes again – but not according to the traditional ‘script’ of life at this stage. The 60s are no longer about retreating from life and the beginning of ‘the end’. Now, life in this decade is pulsing with excitement and heralds the beginning of a ‘second act’ which is all about personal fulfilment, expansion, growth and learning. Life is getting bigger, not smaller – and this continues well into the 70s. It’s not until the 80s that ‘old’ becomes real and even then, if your health is good, the drive to engage with the world is stronger, not weaker.

Age and life-stage no longer dictate what we do in life and when we do it, what our priorities and values are or even what our lifestyle looks like and how we consume. As one research participant put it: “We do things in life when we want to do them now, not necessarily when we’re supposed to.”

The time has come for marketers too to re-write their scripts for how they understand consumers.

Rule re-write number one: Assumptions about life stage and age should be checked at the door.

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Laura Demasi is research director of the ‘Ipsos Mind and Mood Report’ and author of the new study ‘Australia 4.0’

 

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