Why Are We Still Selling To Age Groups?
Any of you who know me just a little bit know that I absolutely DESPISE the old technique of marketing to demographics. And of the old demographics, my least favorite is age. But here we are, still selling to age groups. We’re blowing right on past the Millennials that have been the ABSOLUTE focus for the past ten years—by the way, we completely ignored the Gen X’ers but more about that in a moment—and now our sights are set on Gen Z.
What in the hell are we doing?
Yes, I am actually focusing on the adult beverage industry, here. I understand that the legal age of consumption in other countries is lower than it is here in the US, but come on! The Gen Z kids are JUST coming into age regardless of which side of the pond you’re on.
For an industry that prides itself on its ability to self-regulate, this should set off warning bells like crazy. For marketers, this approach is lazy at best and damaging at worst. I wonder who it is at the top of the spirits marketing world making the decision to market a gin experience to Gen Z or why industry pundits are already sounding the alarm for how difficult it will be to break the Gen Z code. It’s maddening.
I know I bring my own bias to this argument. After all, I fall squarely in the Gen X age demographic. The smallest of the age groups, we typically get lumped in with the Baby Boomers. I’m pretty sure that’s where all marketers lost their way, actually. Gen X is a different animal from the Boomers, or at least a large number of us are. We are a split group with some of us following our predecessors while others forged a new way. A path the Millennials barreled down like gangbusters. Marketers didn’t keep up which left them out in the cold trying to figure out what happened.
You’ve heard me say this. Marketing must leave behind traditional demographics and look at tribe behavior or niche marketing. Tribes/niches ignore traditional demographics. Adventurers come from any age group, any gender, any income bracket. So do Foodies and Car Enthusiasts, and Gamers… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. Just because a person is of a certain age does not necessarily mean they are a part of, or not a part of, any of those groups.
As a brand—because to be honest, at this point we are talking about spirits brands and not restaurants (but I’ll get to you in a moment, too)—you need to determine where you fit in the tribes. Is your spirit (or beer or wine) geared toward Partiers or Gamers or Foodies? Do you know the difference between those people?
Also known as Gen Y, our Millennial cohorts have been a source of consternation for all brands. Because they are a larger age group than Gen X, marketers chose to focus on them instead of cut their teeth on the smaller group that actually introduced the idea of tribes. You see, if you look at a group of Gen X’ers, you will see a diverse group that is finally coming into the “income demographic” that is also important to marketing. For you see, if a group of people doesn’t have the money, they won’t buy the thing. Right?!
Not always. Gen X is getting hammered by the income disparity as much as or moreso than Millennials. Some of us are parents of Millennials and are trying to pay our mortgages, pay off our own college debt (especially if we chose to update our education for tech fields), and help our kids pay for college. Those of us who waited to have kids are now adding in the stress of our Gen Zs, many of whom are eschewing college and working gig or “beginner” jobs and staying home. In this economy, that’s smart, but it puts priorities in a different place.
When we want to splurge, we find a way to do it. When it is something that falls in our tribe mentality, we make it happen. Marketers seem to understand that. I never hear them say, “How do we get the $$ income demographic to buy our stuff?” That just doesn’t compute. It’s more of a, “If they want it, they’ll find a way to get it.” I also don’t typically hear marketers ask how they are going to get a particular race or gender to purchase. It is almost always, “How do we get Millennials / Baby Boomers / Gen Z to buy our stuff?” Almost ALWAYS.
You don’t. If you concentrate on one single age group and that is the only thing you concentrate on, you will not grab them. I mean, how many years have you been trying to get the Millennials? And you still ask how to get them—especially now that they are coming into more discretionary money. But you missed the boat, didn’t you? You were so busy concentrating on age that you missed the other markers you should have been paying attention to.
Use your data. You’re online, you are gathering data, or should be. Use it! There is social media data (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even Pinterest, Snap(chat), YouTube) and website data (Google Analytics, anyone?). In the numbers is gold. You can find the interests of people who visit you and use that information. Travel tribes come in all ages/races/incomes/genders, as do Movie Lovers and Surfers and Gamers. The list goes on. We no longer (if we really ever did) limit our activities by our demographics. See who follows you and figure out how to incorporate your brand into their interests. Just try it for a month or two. The low cost of advertising online makes this an easy experiment. Even if it fails, and it might, you will gather more data for the next try. Once you try a few, you will likely find the perfect tribe(s) for your brand.
You aren’t off the hook here. Restaurants and bars need to look at their locals. Those are the people who will be your bread and butter, pun intended. Find out what fits those who live in your area, find your local tribe(s) and entice them appropriately. Then, when looking for visitors to your area, you have an appropriate group of travelers to market to based on the local tribes you have cultivated. Use the tools at your disposal and make choices, test them, adjust, and try again.
My final plea is, “STOP BEING LAZY.” Stop marketing to the wrong people. Stop using the wrong set of criteria to determine who to market to. Stop trying to figure out how to market alcohol to underage and barely of age people. This is madness and I won’t be a part of it.