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Generations and Demographics: We're all the Same. We're all Different.

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Two of the panels I enjoyed the most at SXSWi - The Twenty Something Time Machine and Death by Demographics: Killing off your Ad Budget - shared a similar focus (technology’s role in changing the way we define consumer targets). However, the sessions had very different takeaways:

  1. We’re all the same.
  2. We’re all different.

Full disclosure: those takeaways greatly over-simplify very complex marketplace shifts. But, the takeaways highlight that global access to the web, a sharp increase  in ownership/use of connected devices, greater access to robust behavioral data, the rise of sophisticated digital targeting capabilities and the rise of socially-connected, empowered consumers have simultaneously produced the most assimilated generation in history while presenting the opportunity/need for the most individualized advertising targeting ever.

We’re All The Same. (Well, at least affluent Gen Y’ers.)

Speaking about Generation Y (aka Millennials), Jason Dorsey of The Center For Generational Kinetics and Lisa Pearson of Bazaarvoice asserted that technology has created the most globally similar generation of all time. Core to this is the access to shared culture that technology, connectivity and social media have facilitated. While interpretation/application of this shared culture may differ by region (prime example: the politics of the Harlem Shake in Tunisia), generational truths have homogenized across distinct geographies and cultures especially among the affluent.

So, what does that mean and why is it important? As brands continue to expand into new markets, this generational blending will allow for the development of truly global campaigns centralized around generational truths. While local preferences will always persist in the media world, digital consumption behaviors will allow brands to drive efficiency by targeting their audience across shared platforms. Facebook is already providing this platform via their Global Brand Pages. Look for other media properties to incorporate localization (translation, commerce, etc.) into their back-end systems to seamlessly support generational campaigns across borders.

We’re All Different. (Well, at least Suri Cruise and Honey Boo Boo.)

While in aggregate Gen Y may be the most similar generation of all time, technology is driving the desire for, and capability to, personalize advertising in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago. Historical media buying was built around the idea that people who fit into the same audience categories – age, gender, ethnicity – were most likely to consume the same content and be interested in the same products / messaging. But with the rise of digital and the wealth of information now available to advertisers across devices, we can much more efficiently target campaigns and effectively target individual consumers.

A great example of this that we’ve witnessed first-hand at AMP is the tremendous success in using approaches like look-alike modeling. By building a profile of our target based off of those individuals who complete a desired action (most often purchase), we’re able to  examine their broader online behaviors – how they surf the web, where they go, what they engage with, when they access – and target others who behave the same. Two individuals who share the same age, gender and ethnicity (Suri and Honey Boo Boo were used as an example in the panel) may share very little else in common. So, rather than buying against the demo, buy against the behavior

So, we’re the Same? Or, we’re Different? I’m Confused. 

One of the key sound bites from the Death by Demographics panel was “culture over clusters,” meaning focus your targeting over shared culture and behaviors as opposed to audience segments. That marries well with the belief that generations are becoming more homogeneous. Brands who have a clear definition of their audience should be able to create centralized creative messages that highlight core brand benefits and reasons to believe that span across traditional demographic labels. Through culture/behavior-first media targeting, those messages can better reach the right potential customers regardless of their audience category.

In short, target the culture. And, when creating the message / examining the channels, start by exploring generational truths.