Demographics are dead. Or, at the very least, they’re no longer accurate. And the reason for that, writes Ben Reid, creative director at design agency Milk, is because consumers are no longer willing, or even able to be boxed into predictable generational sets of traits.
Consumers today feel no responsibility to act their age.That means the old generational designations apply less and less, and brands need to respect and respond to that by being much more open-minded about who they’re targeting and why. Instead of isolating down into Millennial or Gen X or Boomer, a better approach is to focus on what consumers are motivated by rather than communicating to a checklist of characteristics. Increasingly, the brands Milk works with are talking with consumers that span the traditional generational boundaries, and take an open-minded view of who their customer is. They communicate based on personality and needs rather than pre-set age-based clusters.
The work of leading psychologists like Michal Kosinski – whose psychometrics research shows that factors such as openness to new experiences, conscientiousness and neuroticism count more than age or life stage in influencing behaviour – reveals a new way to approach brand marketing. Stop thinking about the demographics of targeting, and focus more instead on the feelings you want to motivate. If it’s sophisticated social algorithms that drive consumers, then winning and retaining attention in a crowded marketplace requires understanding of those factors. Milk’s approach to this has been to look to the way brands we work with align with people’s habits and attitudes, how they fit into the cultural noise that influences people, and how those brands provide ways for people to express themselves or their unstated needs.
This is an effective approach because historic generational boundaries are dissolving. As millennials age, marketing focus is shifting to Gen Z but it’s a generation defined less by age than connectivity. It’s a generation that not only expects everything to be digital and immediate, but also transparent and accountable. Gen Z wants their world to be more considered, authentic, personalised, less elitist – and it wants the brands it chooses to reflect that, too. These are sophisticated consumers; they recognise value and expect better experiences from brands and products that they choose to interact with – expectations that are shaped by the social and digital environments they participate in.
Design thinking offers a powerful way to respond to these changes and to draw people in. But designing effectively is complex today because channels are more diverse, audiences are less regimented and competition is so intense. It’s easy to be daunted by that, but designing to engage around interests and emotions offers a way into the challenge. That was how Milk approached the branding for personal care brands like Only Good and Skin & Tonic.
While age groups were part of the broad targeting, the approach really focused on rethinking the experience people have with their personal care products, questioning designs not just on whether they work aesthetically as pieces of packaging and communication, but also on the social messages and experiences they communicate. It’s been intriguing to take cues from different categories and apply them, and to see what happens. With Only Good, a department store aesthetic brings a contrasting premium sensibility to the mainstream category, while Skin & Tonic’s body wash positioning uses the language of cold-pressed juices to bring a luscious, juicy and natural feel to the product. It might not have been the obvious message, but it was deeply aligned with how the target audience wanted to see the world and their own homes.
Ultimately, people value what they feel and in order to deliver brands that people will value, marketers and design agencies need to understand those powerful, if sometimes irrational drivers. Everything should stem from inspiring those motivations, otherwise design is simply guesswork – and that puts both brands and consumers in danger of being short-changed.
Contact: Ben Reid, 09 3666 152 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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