As marketers we can’t escape the fact we are reaching a point where the capacity, ability and desire for customers to exercise choice, has outpaced the ability of demographic-based models to predict their behaviour. Everything we thought we knew about our customers and market segmentation will need a rethink.

Driven by the digital world, consumers are breaking the mould. They don’t act their age, they don’t always behave according to traditional gender types and they are beginning to aspire to a new set of status symbols. It’s called post-demographic consumerism, which is a bit of a mouthful, and despite an ever-increasing array of digital marketing options at their disposal, marketers will need to go back to the fundamentals to embrace this new challenge. After all, that’s our job. Likewise, CEOs and business owners will need to redefine the why’ of their business and the ‘real value they deliver’ to their customers, to ensure their message resonates with this new wave of consumers.

Question everything

According to Trend Watching, it’s “time to throw out the traditional (and tired) demographic models of consumer behaviour!” You can read the article here, and it’s a great collection of examples that prove how relying on preconceived views about your customers’ age, gender, location and status can be a mistake. As marketers we’re all guilty here. For example so much has been written about mapping customer personas you’d think it was the Holy Grail of marketing? However is it simply another form of stereotyping which reinforces our preconceptions about consumers? Take me for example. I don’t feel like a baby-boomer but I’m too old to be Gen Y, so many brands miss me entirely. Thankfully for me and other non-core consumers, it’s never been easier to experience a wider variety of brands and products that better resonate with us.

Authenticity transcends age and gender

For many consumers it seems the ‘less is more’ approach is cutting through more effectively in a post-demographic consumer world. Many businesses have stripped back their messaging in the search of authenticity and the essence of their brand promise. One such example is clothing company UNIQLO, which I came across years ago in Tokyo’s popular Shibuya district where shopping can be a little confronting for a male my age. Their vision is to “transcend all categories and social groups” and their global expansion has been rapid and somewhat unconventional, even using simple pop-up shops in railway stations to boost exposure. The in-store look and feel is simple and above all, authentic. Despite the fact they now sponsor Novak Djokovic and Adam Scott, they don’t try to be something they’re not and in doing so, have built a successful brand story. Selfridges in London is another fashion retailer looking to communicate to an audience who don’t conform to predefined models. The fashion label recently launched “Agender”, which the company’s website describes  as “a unique genderless shopping experience across fashion, accessories and beauty”. Consumers are being drawn to “Agender” because they can create a personalised judgement-free, online experience, consistent with their lifestyle and beliefs.

Status symbols – wealth is out, wellness is in.

Post-demographic consumerism is not only changing our definition of age and gender, it’s also redefining our understanding of status. It’s not all about how much money you have, your job and how much, or how often you consume anymore. New status symbols such as health and wellness, authenticity, sustainability and life experience, are valued more highly with this new wave of consumers, than having the latest, biggest and best. Now I’m not saying it’s all over for luxury brand marques. Growing affluence and a burgeoning middle-class in China and India alone will drive consumption of luxury goods for years however there’s a real push to reverse the effects of mass consumption. According to Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS), the U.S. market for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living is worth an estimated $USD290 billion. Research shows one in every four adult Americans form part of this group – nearly 41 million people. These are also the consumers that are least likely to respond predictably to the demographic-based models which many marketers have relied on.

Taking stock of the post-demographic consumer world

So  how do we market to our customers in this time of market change and disruption? It will take some re-calibration so be prepared to review your current go-to-market plan and question your preconceptions and bias about customers. If you’re spending lots of time and money on building customer personas, consider their relevance in this changing environment.

Go back to the fundamentals and review your company’s mission, vision and values, including ‘why we’re in business’ and ‘the real value we deliver to our customers’. Revisit your value proposition and make sure it’s reflected in your messaging. Getting an independent, un-biased perspective on your current state is critical to the outcome of this process. At Corpwrite Strategy, we help businesses maintain relevance with their customers by revitalising their go to market approach. Above all be authentic and remember that today’s consumers are both younger and older; they’re more knowledgeable and certainly more connected than ever before. They don’t take prisoners, they just move on, so make sure you’re not left behind!

Jeremy Plint is a co-director of Sydney-based business strategy firm, Corpwrite Strategy.

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