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Thinking Outside the Demographic

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If you have been in marketing for any amount of time, you know how omniprescent demographics are. 

The first question most marketing teams will focus on is "what’s our target demographic?"  Demographics are what media is bought by and what media properties define themselves by.  Ask any online community about their core audience, and they will typically respond with a demographic like "teen girls 12-18" or "young men 18-25."  TV shows and movies do the same. 

Brands take this information, match it with their research or intuitive belief in who their audience is, and decide what promotions to run and what ads to buy.  The problem with this system is that it asks the wrong question.  The question we should be asking is "what does our audience care about?"  There are a number of reasons why we need to think outside the demographic:

  1. Creates a common interest. The classic problem with demographics is that you usually end up with more than one that is the target.  Usually, this means a brand will use language like their primary and secondary demographic.  But how do you link them together?  If they were already bonded by a common interest, it makes it much easier to determine how to reach them.
  2. Focuses on real relevance.  The other issue with demographics is that they assume because someone is of a certain gender or age, that they will care about a message.  I know demographics get much more sophisticated than that, but they are still based on an assumption that may be flawed.  Focusing on what your audience cares about instead allows you to think more strategically about what messages would be relevant for them.
  3. Avoids wastage based on assumptions. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this approach is that it helps you to avoid wasting much of your marketing dollars on trying to reach people who are in your demographic but may not necessarily care about your products or be in the market for them.

As a real example of this, imagine you are promoting a campaign where a brand is trying to raise money for breast cancer, the old demographic mold of thinking would be to target women 29-44.  Contrast that approach to one that focuses instead on everyone who has a personal belief in the issue and is vocal about it.  This could include women 29-44, but is just as likely to include a 15 year old boy who’s mother is dealing with the disease.  The implication is obvious.  In terms of buying media, the shift required is creating more contextual marketing messages that touch on points and topics that a particular audience is likely to care about.  The whole point is that targeting by customer passion rather than demographics can make your marketing messages more relevant.  And at the end of the day that’s what we all want.

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