DEMOGRAPHICS IS DEAD!!! ….er, well, not really.

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So I’ve been hearing this thing in marketing geek circles over the last few months: “Demographics is dead”.  

The gist is more or less that building market segments based on demographics is old school, and that today’s bleeding edge marketers recognize that the new way is to target consumer PREFERENCE, which extends across traditional demographic market segments. No one’s going to box them in, demos be damned!

I recently heard rarified, single-estate, shade grown coffee used as an example. The premise was that you shouldn’t try and sell these precious beans to, say, urban upscale professionals with >$60K income, living on the coasts and in select major cities who drive Volvos and download Beck and jazz to their iPods. The thinking is that such a staid, traditional approach will miss the bike messengers, poor doctoral students, and other java junkies who may not fit neatly into a demographic category, but who are willing, based on preference, to spend an outsized portion of their disposable income on primo coffee.

Cool approach. Logical. Exciting!

Except, it can take you down a really bad road, namely: market segmentation strategies MUST BE ACTIONABLE. That is, you’ve gotta be able to find the people to put into your clever segmentation buckets. That’s one of the first marketing principles that was drilled into my skull back in the day. And I argue that it’s just as true today.

So it’s all fine and good to boldly say that you’re going to market your super delux coffee to the crème de la crème of coffee connoisseurs, be they Seattle D.I.N.K.S. or Boston skateboard punks. But thing is, now you’ve gotta find actual real people to get the message to. And guess how you’re going to do it?

Yep, you guessed it; you’re going to rely on demographic data. If you’re running ads, you’re going to rely on the demos the pubs provide. If you’re doing direct marketing, you’ll have to find proxies for skateboard punks and Seattle hipsters, and those proxies will be demographic data — age, where they live, income, sex, buying behavior, home ownership, that kind of thing. If you’re blogging, you’ll be blogging on sites that these folks visit. And you’ll find those sites based on demographics. If your doing PR, you rely on demographic data to find the media outlets that will reach your target segments.

So, demographics based segmenation is far from dead. We can come up with all manner of fancy preference based segmentation schemes, and they can look sweet in a PowerPoint preso, but at the end of the day, segmentation is only as good as your ability to identify actual folks that you can stick into your segments.

 

Happy hunting,

Ken Liatsos, fancy coffee drinker 
(35-45 year old, male, home owner, Subaru driver, Green Mountain Club member, single, no children, 05672 zip code)

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