Only as Old as You Feel: Age vs. Life Stage in Marketing

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By John

Age vs Life Style in Marketing

Age and Life Stage Can Lead Your Marketing Astray

Question: What age would you peg someone who lives at home with their parents, doesn’t own a car, isn’t yet married, is unemployed or underemployed or still in school, and spends several hours a day playing games?

That sounds more like a teenager than a 30-year-old, doesn’t it?

In the U.S., 14% of adults between the ages of 24 to 34 are still living with their parents. In fact, according to the Census release titled “Young Adults: Then and Now,” only 65% of 18-34 year olds are employed, only 2% are or were ever in the armed services, and just 30% are or have been married (the number was 60% in 1980). The poor job market has led many millennials to remain in school for as long as possible, and when they graduate, the costs of repaying student loans delay traditional maturity markers like buying a car, buying a home, getting married and having children. Forget about saving for retirement.

And, the average age of console, PC or smartphone gamers is 30.

One writer puts it this way: “the 20-somethings of today are the teenagers of twenty years ago; the thirty-somethings that we will become will only be getting around to the activities our parents had ticked off at that age.”

This begs the question: Should marketers assume temporal age is a reliable indicator of a person’s maturity and interests?

Age vs Life Style in Marketing - three adult kids that worked

It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage

In “5 Ways You Need to Rethink Your Institution’s Young Adult Strategy,” the first line is: “To craft an effective marketing strategy for young adults, you have to start by tossing out all your assumptions, generalizations and stereotypes about this valuable segment.”

Instead of making assumptions based on a number, it’s more accurate (especially with younger target audiences) to plan your marketing around data other than age. After all, it’s not the age that counts, or even the generation, but the wants, needs, and interests that provide opportunities for effective marketing insights.

Millennials don’t value age-based advertising like previous generations have because their lives don’t follow traditional models. Adult life isn’t something that can be clearly defined in terms of a checklist:

  • Successful career
  • Marriage
  • Home ownership
  • Children (or really great vacations)

Instead, these 20 and 30-somethings are creating their own careers, traveling, renting, forming non-marital relationships or delaying marriage, and having children later if at all. A Marketer trying to reach this audience with a commercial featuring a 30-something hetero couple happily stepping into their first home will only reach a small portion of the Millennial target.

A more accurate identity indicator
Your goal as marketer is to find out what drives your audience - what they like, what they love, who they follow, and what they need. In 1970, the average age of first-time motherhood was 21.4 years - chances were, most woman in that age bracket would be consumers of diapers and baby food. Now, age-based bets are off. Which means we need another indicator that speaks more to the identity of the audience we wish to target.

Consider social groups.

By looking at which social causes and organizations your target follows, you can key into what they identify with.

For example, a male Millennial who self-identifies as a “Social Activist” tends to be:

  1. Unmarried
  2. College-educated
  3. Childless
  4. Conservative and follows Generation Opportunity and the NRA
  5. Supportive of same-sex marriage
  6. Entertained by George Takei and Ricky Gervais
  7. Science lovers (and follow Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  8. NPR listeners
  9. Readers of The Onion

A male Millennial who identifies as a “Sports Lover” tends to also be:

  1. Unmarried
  2. College-educated
  3. Childless
  4. Actively religious
  5. Supporters of firefighters but not police officers
  6. Megan Fox fans
  7. Drinkers of Dos Equis
  8. Listeners of 95.7 The Game radio station
  9. Readers of ESPN and Playboy

As you can see, there are similarities that are likely due to age and lifestage (unmarried, college educated, childless), but the more revealing insights come from other data.

When we create a marketing persona, age is only one of the factors that come into play. If you’d like to read more, check out The Ultimate Guide to Building a B2C Marketing Persona.

What do you think - how important is age when creating an effective marketing strategy? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter using the hashtag #agevsmileage.

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Topics: Knowledge