Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Labels, we don't need no stinking labels!

Demographics is a word tossed around a lot by industry experts.  It's always been that way.  Even back in my radio and television days, we were always concerned with reaching the right "demo".  And it makes sense why demographics are so important to not just media outlets, but to small businesses and non-profits as well.

Demographics are a quick, easy way to identify a particular group of people you want to reach out to, whether it's in your marketing efforts, your public relations efforts or your social media efforts.  By identifying your audience, you can better structure your content to appeal to those specific individuals and, hopefuly, drive more traffic to your website or business.

But demographics can hide a trap that many small businesses and non-profits, even large corporations, fall into regularly; and that's labeling.

Don't Label!

I recently held a meeting with a client that is preparing a large social media campaign aimed at a specific target demographic.  This particular client is looking to reach pet owners under the age of 35.  That is a fairly specific demographic on one hand, as it specifies and age as well as a particular lifestyle, that of pet owner.

But it doesn't delve into education, financial situation, relationship status, ethnicity or location.  There are some campaigns that have stated their target demographic includes Hispanic women 20 to 25, college educated, unmarried, professionals with a household income between $30-$50k per year living in San Diego.

Now THAT'S a specific demographic.  And when dealing with such specific demo's, it's fairly easy to put together a campaign that speaks directly to that crowd.  And yet even with such detail, organizations can run into problems when approaching that group as a monolithic entity.

In other words, even within such a specific demographic, there are many different tastes, desires, goals, etc.  To treat them all the same is a huge, huge mistake.

For instance, let's go back to the client I had the meeting with.  According to recent studies we know a few thing about under-35 year olds when it comes to social media.  We know that they are very community oriented, we know they tend to be more skeptical of advertising and marketing, they don't blog, but they do read blogs. 

Currently, according to the organization, their largest current user base is women 40-years and older.  Now this organization has some decisions to make.  First, do they focus so much attention on their new target demo that they risk alienating their current users?  Or do they try to find a balance and take a risk that something less than an all out effort will carry their message to the target demo.

The primary danger when dealing with a specific target demo, any target demo is trying to lump them all together.  Let's face it.  We all hate being labeled.  I'm supposedly of the Gen-X ilk.  I know there were numerous studies done on what we liked, what kind of lifestyle we preferred, how we gathered information.  But when it comes right down to it, I only fit a handful of their findings, as did many of my friends. 

This is where the many companies got into trouble when trying to create advertising campaigns for Gen-Xers.  Many of those campaigns failed, miserably.  And they failed for one reason.  Instead of creating campaigns that were simply good, and would naturally appeal to Gen-Xers, these companies made it very clear that these campaigns were specifically targeted at us and, by goodness, we were SUPPOSED to like it.

One Size Does NOT Fit All!

The problem is, we didn't.  I think that's because we were being told that a particular image represented all of us.  When in fact, no one generalization fits well with any demographic.

In our efforts to create this campaign for my client, one of the things we have to avoid is creating social media platforms that scream out, "THIS IS ONLY FOR THE UNDER 35 CROWD!"  That's the fastest way to turn them off of your campaign, and alienate your current base.

Instead, we're looking to create pages and groups that will naturally be appealing to that specific demographic.  This includes creating pages that deal with relationships, financial issues, time concerns and futures planning.  These are all issues that this particular demographic is particularly interested in.  Postings that deal with perhaps a more risque side of relationships, or with balancing professional and personal needs are natural draws.

We also understand that we have to utilize video to its utmost effectiveness and, knowing what we know about blogs and this particular demographic we will delve more into micro-blogging than with more traditional blogs.

We also have to keep humor, irreverence and cleverness at a premium.  By creating content more in line with Collegehumor.com, or funnyordie.com, we'll have much more success than mirroring content more likely to be found on NPR or more staid sites.

However, regardless of what we do, it has to be created and presented in a way that says, "here, take a look at this, it's good...period."  NOT "Here, look at this, you'll like it because you're under 35."  If we go the second route, we'll fail.

Small businesses and non-profits should always focus on quality of content over demographic generalizations.  Demographics are best used when helping to determine what kind of platforms to use in your social media campaign and to guide the kind of content you post.  Note that I said, guide, not determine, but guide.  Good content will take care of itself, but if you know that your audience, by and large prefers video over long articles, funny and irreverent over dramatic and respectful then you can tailor your content to meet those standards.

Spending some time on sites that cater specifically to the age group you are trying to reach will help you in your content delivery and even help you speak the language to an extent.  But don't try to act like your 28 if you're 50 years old.  The demo will sniff you out and turn on you.  But if you treat them with respect, don't label them and present quality content in a way that appeals to them, you'll find success.

Keepin' It Real:

One final note on that.  Let's say you want to reach out to a 30 and under demographic and tell them about CPR classes.  Your facts say everything you really need to say, but you need to present it in such a way that will appeal to your target audience.  You COULD write out a series of stories in a blog, but you already know that probably won't impact your demo and drive them to your website.

But, you COULD put together a micro-blog together with video and photos that would have greater appeal to your demo.  You could also find ways to relate CPR to relationship issues, health issues, professional concerns or futures planning.  Yes, this may be a little difficult, but if you could find a way to make CPR sexy or somehow a relationship-enhancer, you're going to find a great deal of success in reaching out to your target audience.

If this means spending time with members of your target audience to find out more about what they find fun or interesting, then do it.  Just don't try to BE a member of this target audience unless you really belong there.  In other words, in the verbiage of the kids today...just keep it real.


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