Do Demographics Still Matter For Businesses?
I recently came across a fascinating Opinion column in the Washington Post written by Phillip N. Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park (my alma mater!) about generation labels and why we should stop paying attention to them. Cohen, along with 150 other demographers and sociologists, have written an open letter to the Pew Research Center "urging them to stop promoting the use of generation labels (the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and now Generation Z)."
Personally, I don't disagree with their stance on the seemingly arbitrary dividing lines that the "experts" have drawn between the generations. I've been dependent on demographic research for many years, and as an expert in the senior marketing space, the baby boomers are a vast and very confusing group of people. Millennials and Gen Z are not far behind in terms of misrepresentation and confusion.
So, if we can't depend on demographics alone to figure out more about the audiences we're marketing to as a business, how do we understand our audience enough to connect with them?
A baby boomer who is 75 years old is in a very different place, both physically and mentally, than their younger counterparts who aren't yet 60. For this reason, it's not enough to simply depend on the demographic breakdown provided by the year of birth. Instead, you have to think about how they are living their lives - are they retired? Still working? Are they living at home, or have they moved to a retirement community? Are they still active or are they slowing down a bit? Thinking through the answers to these questions can help give you a better understanding of who you're going to be talking to, and what you should be saying when you do.
For a "geriatric millennial" like me (a term that I truly despise), there are significant challenges that I face as a mom to two young girls, while also trying to balance a career. Many younger millennials, however, who are in their mid-to-late twenties face a completely different set of challenges. There are many instances where challenges bridge generational gaps, though. For example, a 28 year-old who feels lost and directionless in her life can be struggling with similar emotions as a 58 year-old woman who is recently divorced and nearing retirement. It's not age that matters here; the focus should be solely on emotions.
People often as how I can be an expert on seniors and aging when I am so young and living a totally different stage of life. The answer is empathy. Empathy, and having the ability to emotionally put myself in other people's shoes and experiences is the secret sauce to producing content that moves the needle with your audience. The human experience is connected at every stage by emotions, struggles, challenges, joy, desire, and motivation. By tapping into the intersection of these often complicated emotions that your audience might be feeling, you can inspire them to make a purchase with you.
Every business sets out to solve a problem for people, and by understanding the deeper experiences that cause that problem you can create content that makes your customer feel as though you are talking directly to them. That you understand their plight, and you are there to help them. As Cohen so eloquently argues in his essay, the categories that Pew researchers have defined for us fail to capture common experiences. After all, it is not our birth year that defines us as much as what we experience in the world once we are born. Find the commonalities your audience shares, and you've struck gold, no matter who or where or how old they are.
Need some help exploring your target audience for your business? You know where to find me.