You’re Not That Special: Why Demographics Don’t Matter

Age matters, if you’re a connoisseur of vintage wines or enjoy pungent cheeses. Gender matters, if you’re stating your admiration for a ship (Aye captain, she’s a real beaut). But for marketers, it’s time for us to ditch this segmented way of seeing the world. There’s a better way to target our audiences other living, breathing people like us.

Ending our reliance on demographics will not only make us more effective marketers, but will also help eliminate damaging stereotypes that crop up so often in marketing campaigns. In one of my favorite quotes from The Office, Michael Scott explains how limiting stereotypes can be:

“Close your eyes,” he says. “Picture a convict. What’s he wearing? Nothing special, baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants. He says something ordinary like, ‘Yo, that’s shizzle.’ Okay. Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? A black man? Wrong. That was a white woman. Surprised? Well, shame on you.”

The absurdity of the quote aside, Michael makes a good point in his confluence of genders. If you feed your marketing teams the same tired demographic research, you’re painting a very restricted picture for them. If you tell your team to imagine a “he,” that’s exactly what they’re going to do. You’re setting them up to reach the most stereotypical conclusions, which can hurt your brand and your bottom line.

Google has great data to back this up. For example, they found that 40% of baby product purchasers live in households without children. Asking your marketing team to solely market to households with children would be missing nearly half of your consumer base.

Looking beyond demographics and stereotypes also makes for more inclusive marketing campaigns. One of my favorite examples of a brand campaign making a real effort to transcend limiting stereotypes is Thinx, the period-proof underwear brand. Periods have historically inspired only the most whitewashed of advertising campaigns, but Thinx opted for something much better.

With colorful, artful and provocative imagery, Thinx challenged us to think differently about what an ad for period products should look and feel like. And it’s not just women they feature in their vibrant campaigns; Thinx became the first menstruation brand to feature a trans male model. Their inclusive and real campaign made an important point that there are men who get their periods. It started a purposeful conversation, while also enriching their brand message that everyone should feel secure in who they are.

Demolishing the demographic can also lead to more creative ways of structuring a marketing campaign. Actimel, a brand of yogurt drink by Danone, did exactly that with their #staystrong campaign. Rather than target specific people, they targeted specific moments in time that everyone experiences – for example, the horrors of commuting or getting stuck in a rainstorm.

Their real-time marketing campaign was able to dynamically respond to these events, pushing out relatable content during morning rush hour or when a storm rolls through. It’s a simple idea, but a transformative one.

As marketers, we are challenged with making a product or service relatable. If you stripped it down to the most essential elements, a marketing campaign would look a lot like a persuasive essay: state the challenge, provide a solution, and give supporting evidence. The foundation of a great strategy doesn’t have to start with a stereotype – it could begin with an emotion or universal feeling.

By demolishing the demographic, brands can break free of limiting stereotypes. These tired half-truths restrict how we see the world. Demographics can hold brands back not only in profit, but also in the hearts and minds of their audiences the passionate, interesting people they’re trying to reach.

Alexander Jutkowitz, CEO of Group SJR, Truffle Pig and Colloquial. 

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You’re Not That Special: Why Demographics Don’t Matter