Time to re-think demographic models

By Jeri Denniston, Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Technology has changed the landscape of consumer behavior, causing us to re-think consumer demographic behavior models about how different generations behave. Four factors have come together to influence consumer behavior, according to trendwatching.com.

According to the November 2014 Trendwatching.com update, several trends have come together recently that require us to re-think our demographic models.

Like the 2012 Megastorm Sandy where three major hurricanes collided, several consumer trends and new technologies have merged which require new thinking about consumer buying habits.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the UK, “women now account for the majority of video game players, and there are more gamers aged over 44 than under 18.” – Internet Advertising Bureau September 2014
  • “Twitter’s fastest growing demographic between 2012 and 2013 was the 55-64 year age bracket, growing 79%.” – Buffer July 2013
  • “A retirement home in Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted an activity day for its elderly residents in September 2014, featuring a skateboard exhibition and graffiti artists.” – Whaaaat?

Thanks to technology and the availability of information, early adopters are not just the younger, affluent population. They can be anyone.

Four factors are combining to change the way consumers of all generations behave, says trendwatching.com:

1)    ACCESS: global information availability and collective brand familiarity is creating a new experience that spans generations. Consumers from 16 to 60, in all reaches of the globe, are using the same products and brands: Apple, Nike, Samsung, Facebook (the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women over age 55).

2)    PERMISSION: Increased lifestyle freedom is driving the collapse of ‘natural’ convention after convention, and the formation of new identities. From traditional family structures to gender roles, the “traditional” convention has changed. Witness the rise of TV shows like Modern Family, the acceptance of openly gay couples raising children, legalization of same sex marriages  – not just in the US, but around the world.

3)    ABILITY: The ability to experiment and identify with a wider variety of brands and products is driving personalization and uniqueness. UNIQLO is a brand of clothing that enables the consumer of any age or ethnicity to mix, match, combine and create a unique look just for them. Technology has made it possible to experiment and share information freely across social networks used by all ages and levels of affluence, “allowing people to identify with brands, products and services – even those that they don’t or can’t purchase”.

4)    DESIRE: The eroding connection between financial resources and social status is giving rise to a more democratic status, and changing the balance of power between generations. Whereas the traditional status symbols were how much money you made, where you lived, and what car you drove, the new symbols are about the experience, authenticity, connection, and sustainable lifestyles. The younger generations, even the more affluent ones, are basing status on those measures, not on money and material goods. These are the consumers who use Airbnb for their vacations, and donate to Kickstarter campaigns to help start-ups raise needed funds.

While 48% of those who had used ‘neo-sharing’ collaborative consumption platforms (such as Airbnb, Zipcar and Kickstarter) were aged 18-34, 33% were aged 35-54 and 19% were aged over 55. – Crowd Companies, March 2014

What does this mean?

1)    NEW NORMAL: Embrace and celebrate new racial, social, cultural and sexual norms. Some examples:

  • Coca Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl ad which caused a great deal of controversy with America the Beautiful being sung in several languages.
  • HoneyMaid graham crackers featured an ad campaign of a “blended” family where the child narrator talks of having two dads and two moms.
  • In August 2014 Facebook enabled 54 gender identifications for the platform, including transgender, pansexual, asexual and polyamorous. Argentina was the first Latin American country to implement these profiles which were already available in the US, Spain and the UK.

2)    HERITAGE HERESY: Be prepared to re-examine or even overturn your brand heritage.

  • In July 2014 Sotheby’s auction house partnered with eBay to enable online shoppers to bid on and purchase items from art to fine wine during live auctions at their New York HQ.
  • April 2014 New York skateboard store unveiled a 99.99% gold-plated skateboard sold with special archival gloves.
  • October 2014 THUG Kitchen debuts to bully people into following a healthier vegan diet in an effort to appeal to less affluent demographics.

3)    CROSS-DEMOGRAPHIC FERTILIZATION: Look to seemingly foreign demographics for inspiration. Through technology, shared tastes and innovation, it’s possible to connect and transfer ideas between generations.

  • CNA language school in Brazil connects young Brazilian students learning English with elderly people in the US using webcams to chat on a variety of topics in the lesson plan.
  • We’ve already seen bike sharing and car sharing systems based on honor systems crop up in Europe and the US. In June 2014 Paris launched the world’s first bike sharing program across the city for kids ages 2-10 with 300 bikes of all sizes.
  • In August 2014 Singapore-based Pandabed launched its service enabling hosts to narrow their guest audience to people with similar tastes and habits.

4)    HYPER-DEMOGRAPHIC IRONY: Focus on ever smaller niches of interest rather than circumstance.  For example….

  • In August 2014, Russia’s largest bank honed in on the culture’s belief that cats are a good luck charm when moving into a new home. They offered the first 30 new mortgage holders the opportunity to “borrow” a cat when they moved into their new home. Homeowners could choose from 10 different breeds which were delivered to the home in time for the house-warming.
  • During Hong Kong fashion week in July 2014, US-based Vogmask unveiled its stylish air pollution masks, each individually designed by a different artist from the Chinese body painting collective Face Slap.

So what’s next?

Look at trends that are delighting consumers in seemingly disparate industries for your next great innovation. Think more broadly and creatively about how to apply those ideas to your own industry to reach and serve your own target audiences. The key: know and understand your target consumers’ wants and needs.

If you don’t, your competition will probably figure it out for you.

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