Post Updated: 25.08.2022
Age. It’s a staple way of categorising target audiences in our industry and always has been – every year thousands of Marketing undergraduates across the world are taught that one of the secrets to reaching out to the public is to target audiences by age – but hardly anyone ever asks why.
We live in a digital age, and if you’re a marketer, you work in it too. We know that the internet has broken down the barriers of time and distance, allowing for a near-global community, so what sense does it make to segregate your digital marketing approach and target audiences by something as simplistic as age? It is, after all, just a number.
Thanks largely to media stereotypes, we envision teenagers as angst-ridden tech enthusiasts, and older people as cantankerous fools that start every sentence with “back in my day…”.
The reality, however, is that vinyl and vintage are in vogue with young people – but you can bet that they’ll Instagram their latest thrift shop find – and tech savvy grannies all over the world face-time their grandchildren to brag about the pair of socks they just knitted for Grandpa.
Tech is closing the divide between how people of vastly different ages communicate and go about their daily life, and it’s time that the way marketers target audiences reflects that.
For example, it’s tempting to think that brands should focus on social media to communicate with young people. This is partly true – having a social media presence is never a bad thing, and a large number of young people do use social media. However, some studies, such as this 2014 one suggest that the number of Facebook users over the age of 55 dwarf the numbers of Facebook users aged 13-17, with the older generation sitting at 28 million users and the 13-17s at just 9.8 million. Not surprisingly, those in the brackets that fall between 18 and 54 made up the majority of users, but the numbers of older people versus teens definitely seize the long-held belief that social media is just ‘for the kids’.
In addition to this, studies like this US one from 2015 suggest that email is popular across all age groups when people considered how they would like to communicate with companies. All age groups from 18 to 65 hovered somewhere between 68% and 78% – only a 10% difference between the least and most responsive.
All of this is not to say that traditional ways of targeting audiences by age group is totally unfounded – it’s common sense to say that older generations might take longer to get to grips with the likes of Twitter and Snapchat, having not grown up with these kinds of technologies. But to base your approach on the assumption that age is a key factor that defines us?
It’s simply lazy marketing, especially since words like millennials are effectively meaningless (according to the controversial Time article a couple of years ago, the term encompasses people born between 1980 and 2000. We’re pretty sure that the concerns of a 36-year-old in 2016 vastly differ from the concerns of a 16-year-old in 2016…).
As an alternative, why don’t marketers focus more energy on reaching out to groups based on things that are more meaningful?
Brands that target audiences by tapping into a set of values or ideas held by their customers are always going to make a greater impact than those who decide that Snapchat is the way to engage young people when A) they don’t really understand how Snapchat is used and B) they’re using it for the sake of reaching target audiences, not because it’s the best way to get their message across.
Brands like John Lewis really know how to create emotive content that really pulls on the heartstrings of all people – no matter what their age is. To top it off, they also know how to use social media to that effect. Each year, John Lewis unveils their inevitably-iconic Christmas adverts on social media before it airs anywhere else – and each year, their ads go viral way before they hit our television screens. Why? Because they have cracked the code as to what people want to see – and share with their family and friends – at Christmas. How do they do this? By really getting in the mindset of their target audience and consequently knowing how to create content perfect for sharing on social media.
Although the statistics quoted here seem to go against the grain, stepping away from the numbers might be a good idea. It’s time to change the age game; the best and sincerest way to go forward is for marketers to throw themselves into the mindset of their target audiences and understand what truly motivates, inspires, and defines them – beyond their age.