Marketing:

Consumers Do Not See Themselves In Demographics

R Gowthaman, August 4, 2017

The moment we use the word ‘target’ we have already conditioned our system to think that there is someone outside an environment – the viewer looking at it – the object and trying to aim at it and doing something with it.

At a fundamental level, this type of conditioning to look at the universe from the outside and trying to segment them, cluster them or classify them is losing its relevance.

It is no longer about how WE see THEM anymore. It is about how THEY see THEMSELVES. This is a huge mindset shift. How and when did this happen? Why did this happen? It is normal nature to form patterns from a distance and that is what marketers have been doing it all along — form patterns of their TARGET. This is fine as far as the objective is to reach them and tell them something. Not when the need is to engage with them.

One of the fundamental intervention or should we say, disruption, is the availability of information for an average individual to process. A recent study, in the US, estimated that in 1980, if an individual was delivered 10 GB of data per day, he or she is being delivered with nearly 75 GB of data in 2015 — a whopping seven-fold increase in information! Today consumers are spending more time with media than ever before. Therein lies the paradox!

Forget about the velocity with which this information is flowing per day — that is an altogether different discussion; the sheer intensity with which individuals are processing this data daily is what is shifting the focus towards how they see themselves. This velocity and its intensity, has made some of the standard demographic definitions ineffective in understanding and/or predicting human behaviour.

You will only grow one year older in a year — not a year more, not a year less. Your income will also move only once a year — unless and until you switch jobs. You will remain a male or a female forever and your occupation is likely to change, may be once in 3 to 5 years. A sample of the universe was enough to assess changes to these variables. To my mind the first inflection point happened around 2008 when there was a threefold increase in information to 35GB of data per day and since then we have been questioning the samples!

For long, we have used simple demographic information like age, gender, income level, occupation, education, and family circumstances: married with children, singles, or retired to segment and understand consumers. And there are at least 9 different methods of sampling — Simple Random, Systematic, Stratified, PPS (Probability Proportional to Size), Cluster, Quota, Accidental, Line-Intercept and Panel to estimate the behaviour and characteristics of the whole or a wider population.


 

It is no longer about how WE see THEM anymore. It is about how THEY see THEMSELVES. This is a huge mindset shift. How and when did this happen? Why did this happen? It is normal nature to form patterns from a distance and that is what marketers have been doing it all along — form patterns of their TARGET. This is fine as far as the objective is to reach them and tell them something. Not when the need is to engage with them.

The reality is that the explosion of media and entertainment choices that are available to our consumers today is so overwhelming that it makes any of the existing methods of sampling to predict the behaviour of our population fuzzy, vague or blurred. The information overflow far out-strip the homogeneity, sampling can bring to project, as each individual is slowly emerging as a unique sample by himself or herself.

Explosion of mobile devices (from Text to Feature to Smart) at the hands of each and every individual across the world’s population have given him/her the power to express  himself/herself and be connected all the time. These are now manifested in their online and offline behaviours as an “expression of interest” in a particular thing, event or another individual. People’s interests are now therefore becoming a major aspect to recognizing or identifying who they are and gradually forming part of their personal identity — both online and offline.

It is no longer about “knowing who you are” anymore. It is more about “knowing what you do” that is material to understand an individual. And behaviors change basis the stimulus and there is enough stimulus (worth 70GB) for each one of us to be who we are as a unique representative. This probably explains why the pollsters are increasingly failing to predict an election outcome, unless and until there is a deeper understanding of the behaviour that was studied in detail.

Census will remain, but demographics as a means to segment consumers will lose relevance very soon. In 80s, demographic definition alone was enough to understand a consumer’s journey from Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action. Today, the biggest impact of the information overflow is on the consumer journey. Demographic variables are just not able to connect and explain the consumer journey across stages.

The only way to address this situation is NOT to target consumers. You are guaranteed to miss the target. We need to engage with the consumers. We need to understand how they see themselves; and we know, they do not see themselves in demographics! They see each other as personalities with a bundle of emotions. We need to understand that emotion, which manifests itself as their likes, interests and choices in the market place.

Why is a Male, 30+, SEC A individual who is being made “aware” of the communication not showing any “interest” to that communication? Why is a Female, 25-35, SEC AB individual, who has shown “interest’ to the communication not “desiring” to buy the product? What happened to that All Adult, 18-24, SEC ABC person, who showed lots of desire to my advertising? Why is he not buying my product?

The 70GB of data that is flowing between the A-I-D-A is breaking the journey and shifting it in different directions. There are “likes”, “referrals”, “advocates”, “ambassadors”, “fakes” and “endorsers” all through the journey shifting and cancelling the journey. It is virtually impossible for a sample which is meant to analyse “steady” datasets over a time series to do the same job with such fast moving data sets.

The only way to address this situation is NOT to target consumers. You are guaranteed to miss the target. We need to engage with the consumers. We need to understand how they see themselves; and we know, they do not see themselves in demographics! They see each other as personalities with a bundle of emotions. We need to understand that emotion, which manifests itself as their likes, interests and choices in the market place.

We are a lot wiser after the US elections and the UK referendum. Never run a questionnaire to a sample and hope to predict that the universe will behave in a particular way. Stage 1 – I might have answered the questionnaire in a particular way but in between something else happened and I chose to shift it to something else when it came to action. Stage 2 — I am not the “full” representative of your target; I will never be, if you are classifying me a “45+ NRI living in Singapore” for any of your financial instruments!

That settles.

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