In 1938, John W. Campbell, under the alias Don Stuart Jr, presented to the world one of the very best science fiction stories of all time: Who Goes There? This novella, converted to multiple film versions, presents a creature from a world beyond the Earth that, when it devours its prey, can shift to its prey’s shape, memories and personality, while still retaining its own personality.
I see this creature as analogous to the various demographic segments that rule marketing today, and to the misunderstanding by many marketing professionals of the need for developing correct segmented demographic profiles.
Segmentation begins strategically: How to attract the right demographic
The Big Band generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Post-Millennials, in essence, devour their ‘old’ via the replacement of the most valued consumer status desired by B2B and B2C marketers.
Many of the previous generation’s habits are viewed as foundational, and some habits are copied and repeated, but not traits and habits are also developed. These traits and habits can be considered the operation segment of demographic profiling.
A few cases in point
During 2015, I assisted a number of my clients in analysing and developing marketing and communications efforts. I also used my forensic reviewing programs to study those efforts that did not go as well as planned. I highlight three here – protecting the names of the not so innocent – that mistakenly considered demographics as a concern to deal with after the program has been closed, answered the question ‘what difference does demographics make?’ and explained how poor demographics profiling costs businesses money.
Case history one: A regionally based group totally funded by membership assigned me the task of forensic review of a recently completed membership effort. My analyses first focused on poor ROI and why this occurred.
When I started to review the database used, I discovered that nearly one third of those on the purchased list would never use their specialised services; age, behaviour income, and location information were very correct, but the true need was to understand the behaviour, traits, and hobbies of the prospects. In addition, around 5% of the contacts had incorrect addresses.
Having reviewed this data with the membership committee, one of their comments was: “I don’t understand; isn’t demographics something to worry about after you get the prospect as a member? We’re looking for members, not demographics?” Wrong – demographic review is critical at nearly all stages of the marketing process.
Case history two: A Western state-based non-profit was not bringing in as many needed contributions, donations, and members as expected. Despite extensive rebranding efforts, the organisation’s new sales material, using mostly legacy media as well as stoic, bland, and totally non-interactive social media, just did not bring the results needed.
Here the problem was a bit more difficult to understand, but after a review of the average age of the current membership, the solutions were simple. The organisation was targeting younger ‘supporters’, even though the average age of a current member was 65.5 years of age. Their goal to reach a younger demographic was close to being on target – it was the message, media, content, and context that were demographically out of date.
Yes, they simply – to reduce the cost – repurposed their existing sales material. They tried to use more social media but did not consider that this younger generation desired not only a different message but looked for a completely different set of benefits and a different delivery mechanism for benefits and membership offerings. Benefits that attracted the Big Band and Baby Boomers did not translate well to the Gen X or Millennials, and neither did the use of older legacy media.
Demographic-based media analysis also revealed a serious miscalculation; use of little interactivity, limited mobile interfaces, and almost no SoLoMo (social, mobile, location). When I presented my findings, I overheard: “Do media and message have to do with demographics?” Well, yes!
Case history three: The final case history deals with a marine industry startup that was attempting to attract two sales channels or markets, both ‘sellers’ and ‘buyers’. This firm’s plan was to make money from the ‘sales’ that would result from a positive and very interactive online presence.
The problem was clear with little in-depth review. The buyers and sellers were not match – sort of like selling steak to a group of vegetarians. The problem here was one of communication; two internal, independent groups looked at the desired demographics from varied viewpoints, never asking the other how the databases were going to mesh and result in sales.
How do the sci-fi story and movie relate to marketing?
Many will be asking what all of this has to do with the book and movie Who Goes There? Unfortunately, demographics traits are not always as clearly defined and almost never as transferrable as the creature the ‘thing’ morphed into. Yet recognising and analysing the exact nature of the morphing market is just as central to your ‘plot’.
Some confusion often results when the development of a demographic profile and the media used to reach the profile became complex. A shift in the overall profiling needs to be made. In most cases, this shift, if not correctly undertaken, will negatively impact the effort.
Demographics, segments, and other related sales/selling divisions separate the target market into smaller and smaller highly selected ‘silos’. Once an analysis has been undertaken, then you need to start to pay attention to the tactical needs of the targeted base. Today, this more focused approach involves media, personalisation, and much more. Often, the demographic breakdown is sorted or listed with a greater in-depth review outside the scope of traditional demographics. Income, age, regional, gender are very important; so are behaviour, media used, habits, traits, and other related insights linked to the brands, services, and products.
In today’s as well as in future marketing, channels are constantly morphing. As a marketer, you cannot assume that your marketing materials, your targeted audience, and the media – what I call the marketing triangle – selected to support your goals and objectives will be successful if you based your assumption on past, and perhaps dated, analysis of what we all agree is a rapidly changing marketplace.
Consider an enhanced, more robust demographic overview. Today, each and every demographic need must be examined via a simple but proven formula that includes:
- Relevance: The messages, content and context must be relevant on many levels to the targeted segment
- Media value: The correct selection and integration of media across all platforms should not only allow easy and desired access to allow you to reach your goal and track your effort, but also be valuable, supportive, and desirable to the demographic you have targeted
- Integration: Message, content, context, and media must all be in sync, non-confusing, clearly defined, targeted, action-based and, when the action is requested, be simple to activate
- Interaction: Whether you like it or not, we live in a highly mobile society, reflected not only in our use of devices, but in our buying habits as well. You need to offer simple, response-based, measurable interaction within all your media platforms and across all the devices that are currently being used by or in the targeted marketplace.
Fixing the problem
The idea is simple. Once you have your base demographics in hand, start to ask the questions that relate to relevance, interaction, integration, and media, as well as to your goals and objectives. A second option is to hire me to assist you prior to your activation of the marketing need, while alternatively, you could hire me to conduct a forensic analysis of your effort to determine why your effort did not reach all the goals and expectations you desired.
Option three can be very helpful, however trying option two before having to use option three may save you from risking your job and looking at a different type of ROI – resume on the Internet. Get it?