Today’s guest blog comes from Consumer Culture Expert David Allison. An evolutionary author, advisor and researcher, he helps audiences decipher what’s going on around us, and prepare for what’s coming next. Do you want to build a bigger and more engaged audience? David shares essential information about the ten most-powerful audience-profiling tools that motivate everyone to do everything.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly run across a story, or heard a speaker at a conference point out some random similarity between Baby Boomers and Millennials. I know I have.
In fact I heard about these similarities enough times, it prompted me to start actively hunting for these references to overlapping inter-generational wants and needs. The more I found the less random they seemed.
This led to an enormous research project, and a discovery that could change what we know about marketing and design and human resources, and branding, and, well…..pretty much everything.
What did we discover? After 40,000 surveys, we’ve not only proven that age groups have no place in any planning exercise for anything anywhere, but we’ve come up with a better system to define target audiences.
Here’s what I mean.
The more I watched for these age-based proclamations, the more apparent it became that the Boomers and Millennials are more-or-less the same people, except for their age.
Gardening? Canning? Knitting? Woodworking? Self-employment? Volunteerism?
Countless articles were showing up on my desk about how these hobbies or ideals or values were something the Millennials were into.
Organics? Cooking? Cocktails? Environmentalism? The Gig Economy?
Other articles attributed these ideas and activities to the Boomers.
The more I found, the more it seemed to me that all these things, and more, were actually cross-generational. Certain Boomers and certain Millennials liked certain things, and others didn’t.
But the media, like all of us, prefer to use the snappy terms we have created to define generations. It’s easier. It’s the way it’s always been done.
At the moment, we are hearing over and over about what Millennials want. I’ve recently endured rants from pouty Generation X’ers about how the Millennials have been getting too much media attention. I’ve heard rumours that there is a Boomer Backlash brewing. And let’s not forget Generation Y, Z, and the Greatest Generation, and Zoomers. The list of cute names for age-based clusters keeps growing. I read an article somewhere the other day in which the frustrated author just flipped over the metaphorical table and declared ”we are all Perennials.” Ugh.
Good grief. Why does everything have to be a war? Why can’t we, as Michael Jackson famously quipped” “all just get along?”
The reason is simple. Historically, it was very important to act your age. There were very defined scripts for us to follow, which involved choosing a path and sticking to it. Certainly a long long time ago, age-appropriate behaviour was mandated, and deviance from the norm was punishable in all sorts of hideous ways. As just one example, single women of a certain age were, clearly, witches. And we all know what happened to them.
But even more recently, in the last few decades, society judged harshly those who didn’t follow the rules. One societally-accepted path went something like this: you went to school, met your sweetheart, got a job (probably similar to what your Dad’s job was), got married, had kids, drove the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons or both, eventually saw your progeny off to school, and having fulfilled your mandate to propagate the species, you started to think about downsizing, and eventually moving to a retirement home. There were other paths too, all equally-well-defined and unwavering.
Think about how difficult it was, even just a decade or two ago, to be an unwed mother. Or a senior citizen who wanted to get married. Or a man who didn’t want to ever get married. Or be gay and want kids. Or get married and decide not to have kids. Or, in fact, do anything other than what you were supposed to do: there was a cultural imperative to behave yourself and act your age.
This was a time when age meant something. You could more-or-less count on the fact that 18–24 year-olds or 25–36 year olds were going to be doing similar sorts of things.
And since organizations of any kind can’t be all things to all people, using age to define a target audience was a pretty good tool. Age helped us focus our time and resources. It helped us craft age-appropriate motivational messages for ad campaigns. It helped us create brands and ideas for certain age-based segments of the population. Age targeting helped win elections, design cars, create corporate cultures. Age-based clusters were a big idea.
But today, nobody acts their age anymore. Woo hoo! What a much more free and civil society we live in! We are all able to do pretty much whatever we want whenever we want. Married and no kids? Cool! Never marrying? Great! Stay in school until you are 50? Good for you smart-guy! Gays with kids? Right on!
Today we have CEO’s of major Fortune 500 companies who are 30-something years-old. And we have 50-year-olds riding skateboards to work. Cleary age doesn’t mean anything in the real world anymore.
But in boardrooms everywhere, in meeting rooms and advertising agencies and brainstorming session and brand workshops, the question still dominates the early stages of every conversation. Who is our target audience, and how old are they?
So, as usual, there is a lag time between what’s really happening, and how we react to it.
What all those executives and designers and advertising guys and engineers need is proof.
In fact they need proof about two things:
- Proof that age is no longer a relevant tool, and
- Proof that there is a better system to create target audiences
So that’s what I set out to do. Find the proof. Find the better system.
And I did. The age of age is over.
We’ve discovered ten audience profiles for a new world, a world where we don’t design or build or create anything for randomized groups of strangers based on when they were born. Age-based target audiences or member profiles or prospect definitions can now be a thing of the past.
We call our research the Better Than Birthdays study. Why? Because the ten target audiences we’ve discovered are far more cohesive and similar in makeup than the old-fashioned ones based on birthdays.
I’ll tell you more about the ten Better Than Birthdays profiles with some upcoming posts on Medium. Check it out here.