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The problem with marketing that targets generations

Technology & Data

The problem with marketing that targets generations


To be successful at niche marketing, businesses need to think beyond age and generation, and think more deeply about identity and connection, writes Jeremy Francis.

Jeremy Francis_Marketplacer_Head ShotThe problem with marketing aimed at groups of people defined by generation (Millennial, X, Boomer, etc) is that it makes assumptions about people based on when they were born.

A person’s age is only one factor in the puzzle of their identity, how they see themselves, and what tribe they feel they belong to. There’s more to a person than their birthdate.

It’s true, age is an important factor, and we can definitely see common characteristics among each generation. However, to be successful at niche marketing, businesses need to think more deeply about identity and connection.

You don’t have to go much further than your own workplace, family or circle of friends to see that the characteristics often ascribed to certain generations can be sketchy. Delve deeper into the data and think outside the classic demographic paradigm and you’ll see a different, bigger picture emerge of tribal demographics based on passion and personality.

For all the supposedly narcissistic, selfie-obsessed Millennials out there, there is a fair number (probably the majority) in that same age cohort who aren’t spending all their time taking snaps of themselves for Instagram.

It’s too simple to make assumptions about age group characteristics and then think you have that demographic pegged. At best, it’s lazy marketing; at worst, it means your marketing message totally misses the mark.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald last year illustrated this point to some degree: “They are demanding, love a bargain, and are ‘promiscuous’ when it comes to brands. Now this 20-somethings group of Generation Y consumers are set to leapfrog Gen X-ers and overtake Baby Boomers as the nation’s biggest spenders.”

There is some truth to statements like this in as far as there’s some truth in most generalisations. But even the most cursory breakdown of these assumptions reveals that there’s not much basis here for creating a marketing profile that will allow you to connect with a real flesh and blood consumer who might be willing to part with their money for your products.

Let’s look at the statement: “They are demanding, love a bargain, and are ‘promiscuous’ when it comes to brands.”

“They are demanding” – Most consumers, regardless of age, have become more demanding because they can readily voice their displeasure with businesses on social media, and also because people are far better informed these days about their consumer rights.

“Love a bargain” – This is as applicable to elderly pensioners and young families as it is to Millennials. In all honestly, who doesn’t love a bargain?

“Promiscuous when it comes to brands” – This is probably closest to being a statement that might be capable of being accurately applied to Millennials, but with the caveat that it’s a statement you could’ve applied to the 18-35 year-old demographic at any point in the past 100 years of consumer behaviour and marketing.

It’s why brands have always gone above and beyond to appeal to this group because it’s during this period that consumers generally form their brand allegiances and loyalties. That’s not a Millennial thing; that’s just the nature of consumers in this age group trying out different brands to see what works for them.

Marketing to consumers today has to be about more than assumptions, generalisations and stereotypes. It needs to drill down and understand the consumer with insights that go beyond classic, pre-web demographics. Brands need to find their tribe and speak to them in a way that resonates as authentic and true. Anything less just misses the mark.


Jeremy Francis is marketing manager at Marketplacer


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