The demographics question

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One great joy of marketing is learning to speak to people who are different from yourself. Young mothers. Feisty teenagers. Dutiful pensioners. All people whose skins I’ve had to inhabit over the years, to understand what makes them tick.

Clients often come to us questioning which demographic group they should focus on. Or come with a group in mind and ask us to figure out how to unlock their potential. As a planning team, we set out to question which generation should be the future focus for the charity sector and we shared the findings last week at GOOD Bites. If you missed it, here’s what we think.

We have long been reliant on the Seniors, or the Silent generation. We all know these generous over 70s with a strong sense of civic duty have quietly driven the majority of our sustainable income for a long time. But increasingly we are facing up to the fact that they will not be with us forever.

The enormous generation of baby boomers beneath them seems like the next best option. They own most of the UK’s wealth and are having all the fun – using their disposable income to travel the world and wine and dine with friends. However, their sense of personal fulfilment and individual control means they tend not give with the same civic duty as their parents. But having driven the majority of social change movements in the 21st century we are finding them a crucial group for campaigning organisations especially.

Then there’s the most commonly forgotten group, Generation X. They missed the post war boom, they’re not quite digital natives – and now they’re at the peak of their career and family life in an age of recession and tightened purse strings. All this has built an incredible ability to plough on through tough times that makes them more like the stoic Senior generation than perhaps they’d like to admit.

Which brings us to the much debated Millennials. As one client who had done some creative testing by generation said to us – there’s the Millennials, and then there’s everyone else. This group are shaking up every business sector and sphere of public life. Yet, despite being the generation with the most progressive ethics ever – they don’t seem to be supporting charities financially hardly at all. Some say it’s because they’re selfish. No gift without a selfie attached. But I say it’s because it’s because they value transparency and involvement above all else – and at present the charity sector seems to keep donors at arms length, asking people to trust them that their money is doing good behind the scenes. And that doesn’t really cut it with Millennials who want to commit to a cause that will let them get their hands dirty on the front line, not help from a distance.

But demographics aren’t everything. At this year’s refugee and Women’s marches we saw 19 year olds marching alongside 90 year olds. The charity event sector is booming and these are routinely tapping into interests like baking, knitting, cycling that span the ages. Certainly for our clients like Plan International UK and PETA, we see supporters who care amount gender empowerment or veganism immediately have something to talk about, no matter what their age.

It’s values, not the year that you were born, that really unites people – and increasingly campaigns that centre on shared values can cut across the demographics for much broader appeal.

Does that mean demographics are dead? We don’t think so. Several organisations have come to us having completely ditched demographic targeting in favour of values groups. It’s brilliant for dictating the content of campaigns – but as soon as you get to media targeting, it becomes really tricky. Try booking DRTV ad space specifically targeting global citizens or traditional conservatives. It can’t be done! Demographics are still a vital tool in our toolbox for planning channel choices.

So we have demographics and we have values.

Two different ways to cut the cake. Two different tools in our tool box.

Values unite us. Demographics divide us.

We think they’re both useful in their own way.

If you’re currently debating millennials or baby boomers, get in touch by emailing hello@goodagency.co.uk.