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Defying Demographic Segmentation


Defying Demographic Segmentation

I started to feel it in late 2006. An inchoate sensation in my knees that gradually moved up my spine as the weeks progressed until it finally started to influence my thought processes.

Looking back on my actions it is clear that my behavior patterns had begun to radically change long before I actually realized anything was different.

My growing interest in plants and sudden attraction to gardening implements should have tipped me off. Then there were the protracted conversations with colleagues about superannuation and pension plans that were genuinely exciting.

Most telling of all was my increased predilection for real-estate agents’ windows. Even when in Tokyo visiting friends last month, I found it impossible not to stop and scan the properties on display, despite the fact that the words and numbers that accompanied each picture were as indecipherable to me as they were irrelevant.

Consumers, you see, don’t age. Instead, we leap from one demographic segment to the next. Rather than following the gradual chronology of life, marketers have always clustered us into classic sub-groups.

I have been ageing all the time, but as far as marketers are concerned, whether I am 18 years and two days old or 34 years and 300 days, I am the same man. Until, of course, I cross the threshold into the next market segment, then I change completely.

I turned 35 on December 20, 2006. While it is not a milestone for most cultures, we marketers realize its significance. I left behind the 18- to 34-year-old segment that accounts for 64% of lager consumption, 68% of football attendance and 79% of soft-core pornography. I became a card-carrying member of the 35- to 55- year-old segment that dominates market sectors such as barbecues and erectile dysfunction.

It is the brutality and immediacy of the shift from one segment to another that have always been my criticism of demographic segmentation.

This clumsy configuration of demographic segments, which assumes everyone of a certain age has the same preferences and then, as soon as they pass a certain birthday, that these preferences universally change, is clearly nonsense. They are two of the bullet points that I use in my MBA class on segmentation to emphasize the superiority of attitudinal and behavioral approaches over gross demographics.

Yet the case study that is my life is disproving my argument. Since I turned 35, my behavior has metamorphosed and, against all expectations, I am proving the parsimonious validity of demographic segmentation. Suddenly, it was the hotel beds, not the bars, that influence my decision-making. Happy hours have lost their appeal, because now I favor one good glass of wine over 12 pints of unimpressive ale.

However, my brand relationships have not changed. Diesel Jeans, Calvin Klein boxers and Armani aftershave are as important to me now as a decade ago. Strategically, that is a big problem for the brands. My new status as a 35- to 55-year-old marks me out as a lucrative, but potentially damaging, consumer for any self-respecting fashion brand. Consumers age, but the great brands continually rejuvenate themselves by rejecting their increasingly infirm loyalists and claiming the generation that follows.

As a consumer, I love the fact that I can still fit into Diesel jeans and CK boxers. As a marketing professor, I have to counsel both brands that my patronage is a serious brand threat. It is time for them to reduce the sizes, streamline the retailers and drag themselves back from the brink into the demographic segment where they both belong, but this consumer does not.


– In the UK, two in every five men aged over 50 and one in four women wear denim.

– The highest spenders on digital music are 45- to 54-year-old men, who buy more than a third of all downloads in the UK.

– By 2014 the number of people in Britain over the age of 65 will exceed the under-16s; by 2025 the over-60s will outnumber those under 25 for the first time.

– 57% of men and 38% of women in the 20- to 24-year-old age group live with their parents.

– By their late-20s more than one in five men still live with their parents – twice the proportion found among women.

– There are 7m single people in Britain. The biggest increase in this sector is among 25- to 44-year-olds.

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