AGING AUDIENCE DYING? OR JUST EVOLVING?
First published on MyTotalRetail.com blog July 2015
© 2015 Susan J. McIntyreBy Susan J. McIntyre
“Our audience is dying. We need to attract a younger audience to get sales back up.” I've heard this over and over for years from both consumer catalogers and B2B.
Yet their age-range demographic reports usually show counts remaining stable, not declining. What's up?
For catalogers with older core audiences, while it's true that a portion of that audience will indeed pass on to the Great Beyond each year, younger folks are also aging and entering the core age group each year. So, excluding other factors, the total core-audience size should remain about stable.
BE ALERT TO AUDIENCE SHIFTS WITHIN EACH AGE GROUP
But here's one big, ongoing change: for a given age range (e.g. age 45-65, etc.) people entering that age range are unlike the people leaving it.
To see why that matters, look at the chart below for people age 50:
Age Born in College age in Turn 50 in
50 1930 1950 1980
50 1940 1960 1990
50 1950 1970 2000
50 1960 1980 2010
50 1970 1990 2020
People born in 1930 grew up during the Great Depression, probably watched Shirley Temple movies, saw the start of WWII as youngsters, may have helped tend a Victory Garden to stretch the family groceries. When they reached college age in 1948 they were listening to Frankie Laine sing "Mule Train", Perry Como sing "Some Enchanted Evening" and Dinah Shore sing "Buttons and Bows." Many got a job in the post WWII boom, others went off to fight in Korea.
Got that vision in your mind?
Now let's compare to a vision for a person born in 30 years later, in 1960.
People born in 1960 probably watched, as youngsters, Neil Armstrong take man's first step on the moon, coverage of the Vietnam War, and of the Nixon/Watergate scandal on TV. During their college-age years, they were listening to Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and Billy Joel, reading the brand-new "Far Side" comic, and keeping their heat turned down due to the energy crisis.
A person's formative years are about age 11-19. That's when many basic values and tastes are set.
So a 1980 catalog for 50-year-olds needed to look very different from a 2010 catalog for 50-year-olds, because those 50-year-olds were unlike each other.
LEARN HOW TO RESONATE WITH YOUR AUDIENCE AGE-GROUP'S SENSIBILITIES
Fast forward to today. You need to understand the tastes, values and sensibilities that your target audience grew up with during their formative years. How?
Let's say that your biggest age-range demographic is 45-65. Make a chart for that group similar to the chart above. For everyone turning age 45-65 next year, compute their birth year, and the calendar years starting and ending their formative years (about age 11-19).
Now you have a date range of their formative years.
For that date range, gather lists of music, movies, TV shows, world events plus visuals like ads, album covers, magazines to get a feeling for the colors, typography and design styles forming those folk's formative-years memories.
BUT DON'T DESIGN TO MATCH A "FORMATIVE YEARS" STYLE
Creative that works needs to be a fusion of their formative years' foundation, plus what they've lived through since.
Formative years set a base. That base is significant. But those 50-year-olds have also been seeing and hearing contemporary TV, music, ads, magazines, and more for 30 years since the base was laid. How to add that in?
STUDY WHAT THEY'RE DOING AND SEEING NOW
Study your demographic reports. Try to get additional information from your modeling vendors. Conduct surveys (online and via postcard) for what magazines they read, what catalogs they shop from.
Now that you understand your audience, you'll be able to create an updated look, that combines "then" with "now" in a way that respects their whole life and values, and resonates with who they are now. You're on your way to increased response and sales.