Friday, August 28, 2009

I’m No Demo

What do all 25-year-old women have in common? Not much beyond the fact that they are 25 years old and female. However, this doesn’t stop businesses from using such benign demographic terms to define their target audiences. And the unfortunate consequence is equally benign products and marketing.

Being a 25-year-old woman isn’t a universal experience. Nor is being a Hispanic man or a Catholic beekeeper. People with similar demographic profiles have different life experiences and vastly different talents, interests and personalities. Their perspectives on life are borne of these differences and ultimately influence their behavior. As such, people who share similar attitudes and perspectives tend to behave more alike than people who share a similar demographic profile.

Fans of Harley Davidson demonstrate the concept. Demographically speaking Harley drivers have little in common, but attitudinally they all aspire toward the rugged individualism embodied in the Hell’s Angels.

Often companies make the mistake of looking at the trees rather than the forest. They start thinking, “we have such and such types of customers” and then they begin catering their products and marketing toward individual demographic groups. This parsing results in an unnecessary lack of focus and overlooks the fact that despite demographic differences, all of their customers had something in common to begin with—affinity for the same brand.

Even if a company’s target has strong demographic correlations, it is rare that everyone in that demographic is a customer or that every customer fits the demo. Moreover, it isn’t the demographic that is important, but rather the associated perceptions. For example, femininity is associated with prudence, seduction and nurturing; youth is associated with vitality, energy and a free spirit. It’s the perception, not the demo that attracts people.

Our desire to be perceived in certain ways guides our behavior. Demographic profiles may suggest something about the perceptions that will attract a target, but they fall short of actually defining either the target’s motivations or a company’s intent. More precisely defined targets produce more meaningful products and marketing. Demographic profiles produce ubiquitous images of smiling [insert demographic profile here] using a product.