The Death of Demographics and the Rise of Consumer Cohorts

The Death of Demographics and the Rise of Consumer Cohorts

As far as we are concerned, demographics are dead.  

Yet virtually every marketing brief we receive indicates a target audience based on age, gender and income. Some will contain a few words about psychographics or the propensity to purchase. But nearly all belie any real insight into the consumers we hope to compel. The result is marketing that appeals to the lowest common denominator — a faceless crowd.

So, why do we still cling to the same identifying information we have used since early last century when mass media first emerged?  Obviously, it’s a holdover from those days when marketing was aimed at the widest audience by necessity.

Of course, that’s no longer the case. With the advent of digital advertising, we now have the ability to hyper-target our advertising to reach buyers searching for our brands or who have an affinity for products we sell. But outside of media planning and placement, marketing assignments still often defer to simple demographic profiles.  

This makes little sense in our modern and highly interconnected marketplace where gender, age, income, etc. no longer define or delineate us.  Today, many 55 year-olds are more active than those in their twenties, gender roles are far less reliable, someone 25 years-old may have much more disposable income than a 45 year-old, and so on.  So, a person’s mindset is far more informative to the modern marketer.

At Rose, we much prefer to identify audience as a collection of Consumer Cohorts — each one with its own set of distinct shared experiences, intentions and priorities.  This approach informs our Storytelling Playbook and content strategy from which we devise all communications and consumer engagement.  Instead of one message for all customers, we segment our content and promote it to each Consumer Cohort.

For example, imagine you are a cocktail bar.  You could define your primary audience as a 25-54 year-old adult with higher than average disposable income who likes cocktails. Or, you could divide your audience into Consumer Cohorts as in the example below.  Which method do you think will achieve the best result?

If you want to give this a try for your brand, here are a few things to keep in mind.  We generally find that 4-6 Cohorts is sufficient, though the number may be higher for some brands. We may depict them as women or men for variety, but gender often plays no role in the creation of the Cohort, other than obvious exceptions. Remember that this process is somewhat fluid and that you can always add, amend or delete Cohorts as necessary. By naming the Cohorts (often as something playful), we can quickly begin to distinguish these various customer traits. In fact, the names become shorthand for the different kinds of content we create that appeal to them. It is also common that some of the attributes ascribed to each Cohort may overlap and therefore some content may be similar. Using our example, some of the communications aimed at The Explorer may also appeal to The Trailblazer.  There will also almost certainly be some campaigns that will appeal to all your Cohorts.  But by mostly tailoring content to each Cohort, we can achieve more personal and meaningful levels of engagement with our consumers.

Once you have identified each Cohort and articulated a description that distinguishes each of them, a general strategic approach can be added, as indicated in our Cocktail Bar example.  And with this in place, we find the process of ideating compelling creative ideas and marketing tactics to be more fluid.  Also, we no longer have to judge every marketing initiative for its appeal to the entire target audience.  Instead, we can expand our definition of what is “on brand” though our focused approach and then deliver that communication to only those for whom it will have the most positive impact.

Rest In Peace, Demographics.

John Rose

Creative director, author and Rose founder, John Rose writes about creativity, marketing, business, food, vodka and whatever else pops into his head. He wears many hats.