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Is targeting consumers according to their age still relevant?

Age is just a number. It’s the year we’re in now minus the year we were born. So why do we make it such a central plank of our marketing campaigns?

It’s mostly because of laziness – age is one of the first things we find out about people, whether through conversation, asking them to fill out a form or the targeting options given by our advertising platform of choice.

It’s also based off a single assumption – that our age is one of the key features that defines us. This may have been true once, but it’s not true today. We all know 50 year olds who are hot on the latest technology and rave about Boom Beach. Similarly, we know 13 year olds who feel more like they’re going on 50 and pass their time filling out crosswords and raving about vinyl records.

It’s these characteristics – the hobbies we do for fun and the causes that pique our emotional interest we need to focus our marketing on.

This age bias is particularly apparent when you consider that well known social group, millennials.

When you break it down, millennials tends to refer to individuals born between 1980 and 2000 and research from Viacom suggests they make up a third of the world’s population.  In other words, a hell of a lot of people in very different life stages, with different responsibilities, worries and interests.

Your average 18 year old is probably living with their parents and weighing up what to do now school's finishing. Meanwhile a typical 34 year old might be concerned with mortgage repayments, climbing the career ladder and having kids.

So how can we possibly expect to reach this entire age bracket, across two decades, with a one-size-fits-all campaign?

From Cadbury partnering with David Guetta to promote Milk Tray and Avicii climbing into the passenger seat next to Volvo, the campaign de riguer to reach millennials in recent years has centred on dance music collaborations. There are two problems with this. 1) The sweeping assumption every millennial likes dance music. 2) These partnerships lack credibility, force-fitting two very different sets of values into one.

No one likes being labelled. A sure-fire way to get a 20-something worked up is to quote research about them to them. While millennials do share some common characteristics, they also pride themselves on being unique. Youth marketing campaigns live and die by their relevance to the audience. If we target them as one big group of millennials we’re failing before we've even started.

We need to really drill down into the data and understand what motivates different segments of our younger audience rather than assuming they all act the same. McDonalds has cottoned onto this, with CEO Steve Easterbrook announcing plans for “less sweeping talk to millennials”. Instead the company will be “more specific on the customer groups where we need to win”. 

Forget buying media or pitching journalists against one specific target group, those days are dead. Instead it’s the brands who target audiences based on a mind-set and certain values which will come out on top. In 2016 we’ll see increasingly sophisticated content, targeting different groups of this younger audience and that targeting will be age agnostic.

But, that’s only half the battle. Once we’re creating content which works for our target audiences, how do we go about reaching them? It’s too easy for younger audiences to ignore advertising altogether – particularly in print, on TV or worst of all banner adverts.

To reach them we need to properly understand and engage with new channels and influencers. Yes you know Snapchat is a thing for young people. But do you use it? How many people in your department use it? An obvious route would be to harness the avid Snapchat users at work and make them your resident gurus. But if you adhere to the mantra, “if you want something done right, do it yourself” then what you should be doing is getting to grips with it yourself.

Mastering Snapchat is only one hurdle you need to jump if you’re serious about targeting a youth audience. YouTubers from all walks of life are an established, powerful group of influencers.

Ensuring everyone on your team can name multiple vloggers, and talk about their appeal and interests is key.  As is engaging with student unions and societies at universities to fully understand modern student life.

Once your team is comfortable with vloggers, focus on the next channel relevant to your brand. This might mean delving into Tumblr or becoming comfortable with the key pinners on Pinterest. What matters is understanding not just how content creation varies between the channels, but also the types of content which resonate with audiences. It’s also vital to understand how your target influencers have worked with brands in the past – some will only work on a paid basis, while others may do product reviews or features. 

Let’s forget about age – it’s just a number. Let’s focus our marketing on what really motivates our audience – their passions and the life they choose to live.

Article written by Emma Hazan, deputy MD, HotwireThis articles forms just one of Hotwire’s predicted trends in its Communications Trends Report for 2016.  The launch event is on 25th November.

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