In the area of customer experience and loyalty, demographic profiling is king. Building an outline of your customers through traditional demographic data, and tailoring customer experience and engagement programmes through this data has been standard for decades. But the landscape is changing. Two years ago, David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG claimed “age structure, ethnicity, household composition and demographic distribution of the UK population are all undergoing significant change and its implications are important for retailers to understand and anticipate”.

We live in a landscape of unprecedented cultural and social mobility. The differences in desires, motivations, and purchasing behaviours between traditional demographic segments are blurring. It’s clearly an incredibly complex environment. This is why I find the rise of generational marketing – applying the same broad marketing strategies to a single generation – Millennials, Boomers, Gen X – incredibly strange. Faced with a more complex behavioural environment marketing teams seem to have hooked on to a trend that paints everyone in certain generations with the same broad behavioural brush. Seems counter-intuitive, no?

Now I’m not saying that retail marketing, customer experience and loyalty managers have, or are going to, trim their demographic profiles to just 4 generational segments, but the trend is certainly growing within the marketing and, unfortunately, the insights industries. Much money is spent on big generational research studies, reaping significant headlines in the marketing media and highlighting similarities. The trend of generational marketing, particularly “marketing to Millennials” is really buzzy. It fits everything into a neat box, and in some ways appeals to a very human side of us. It’s nice to feel that your generation has been shaped in a very particular and specific way by the world around us and that you have a lot in common with a broad group of people.

Having been in the research industry for over 30 years we see this trend as mis-guided at best, and at worst, potentially damaging to brands. There are approximately 16 million Millennials in the UK; the idea that you can market to them with a single strategy is as tenuous as saying you could “market to Asia” with a single strategy. Any researcher or consumer insight manager should understand this. It’s a far too simple a way to view the world. Not only this, but these types of research studies end up giving research a bad name. We all hate research that doesn’t lead to action. While it’s lovely to know that Millennials like to look at pictures of cats, what you do with that information from a practical marketing and brand perspective is a lot harder to work out. You need specific measures relevant to your brand and the experience customers have of it, in order to be able to create specific and valuable actions.

But then the big question is – if traditional demographic profiling is no longer relevant, and broader generational profiling is just marketing buzz, how should industries be profiling consumers?

Through a recent study we aimed to challenge reliance on traditional demographic segments such as age, income and social grade, by looking at attitudinal drivers for purchase and recommendation for some of the UK’s leading brands. The results of the study, in many cases, challenge traditional marketing assumptions and show that the consumer is far more complicated and nuanced than traditional demographics give them credit for. As anexample it’s generally assumed by marketers that single people are more self-conscious and image-conscious, (just take a look at the recent advertising campaign for However, our study indicates that only 35% of singles are concerned with other people’s opinions than those in relationships, as opposed to 45% of couples.

So, using traditional demographics only provides half the story. Our study revealed many data points where broad brush marketing assumptions based on demographics are demonstrated to be untrue when related to specific brands. So our advice is to overlay the demographics with more nuanced attitudinal statements to really understand what drives relationships and loyalty.

Now, if pigeon-holing consumers with traditional demographics is now outdated, surely the concept of generational marketing suggests a regression of marketer nous rather than a progression.


By Virginia Monk, managing director at Network Research. 

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