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    By Valerie Geller

    Are demographics still the best
    selling strategy for the future?

    Traditional demographic breakdowns we've worked with in the past are no longer relevant. Our society and culture is changing and the audience is changing right along with it. If radio is going to continue to grow, develop and powerfully connect to the audience, it may be time to rethink how we look at the audience breakdown.

    It hit me during a focus group. I noticed one of our participants, a young woman in her early 20s, saying hello to a 51 year old on her way out. As they began to chat, the years between them melted away. Both had young children, attended the same "Mommy and Me" classes, were both buying mini-vans and had stayed at the same hotel in Disneyworld. Although they were generations apart, they shared the same lifestage. And both comprise the new make up of Lifestage Demographics ™.

    For example, and this goes back a couple of years now, an old issue of People Magazine (April 29, 2002) spotlighted women on the cover who've just had babies, including a then 43 year old Madonna, 46 year old Geena Davis and Julianne Moore, 41, among others.) Our culture is changing in other ways, including a new generation of work at home or stay at home fathers who take kids to school, make the meals, buy the clothes and generally make purchasing decisions previously thought to be the traditional domain of women.

    LifeStages also cannot be defined by traditional demographics. It's a new world. Ironically the very people who ought to be aware of this, often young people, are making the key advertising buys are doing so without an awareness of how listeners/consumers in different lifestages actually live. Particularly the "older" listeners.

    Because people are living longer, enjoying active lives and good health the stereotypes defining an older person's lifestyle are out the window. Cher, Don Henley, Jimmy Buffett, Naomi Judd and Sylvester Stallone all blow out 55 candles on their birthday cakes this year. The older audience doesn't CONSIDER itself to be an "older" audience.

    18-34, 12+, 25-54, 55+ simply does not work anymore. Chronological age doesn't mean as much as the lifestage or lifestyle of the listener.

    As LifeStage Demographics developed, we began by applying the concept to both sales and programming. With a very good result. Ratings increased at several stations as did revenue. A practical understanding of the listener's various lifestages helped not only in content and show prep direction for programming, it worked for specific targeting in sales presentations. Superserving a lifestage also helped production directors at stations create better and more successful commercials that netted results for the clients.


    Specifically, if you were targeting home owners, it was useful to know from the research, that many couples spend huge amounts of money at the Home Depot and reportedly made up to FOUR trips to a Home Depot or a hardware store in a single weekend. (not just to buy things, but they went back again and again to return the items that "didn't fit" or to have additional questions answered.)

    For those "pitching" insurance agencies, it was helpful for the account executive to be aware that many lifestage singles simply don't buy life insurance. That comes after they have kids.


    How it works:

    Following our research, we broke LifeStages down into categories:

    "KIDS" had 4 sections including Academic Fast Track, Trendy, Sports Fanatics & Perennial.

    Note: under Perennial Kids, we also noted the huge numbers of "return to the nesters," young people who are back living with their parents after they've gone to college or simply prolonging adolescence. Not leaving the house.

    Amazingly we also found similar lifestages between two "young men," again, here were different generations, but similar lives: we discovered a 38 year old man living an identical lifestyle to a 17 year old. Both worked in music/video stores, both rented apartments, both drove sports cars, both were not "sure what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives," both were single, dated a lot, got regular, expensive, haircuts, ate out frequently, attended concerts regularly, and both visited their families each week for a home cooked meal. Both also brought sacks of dirty clothes home each week and so their mothers could do their laundry!

    Then there were several types of lifestage demographic breakdowns in the working world.

    Those who had made a career commitment lived a very different lifestyle than those who were just working jobs but still had major career decisions pending. Renters live a vastly different lifestyle than homeowners do. If you live alone, your listening, viewing, travel and spending habits are different from couples. People with children live a different lifestyle than those who do not have them.

    Other categories included Good Health/Ill Heath (age is not necessarily a factor here) and of course the special interest groups. Race and age do not play as big a role in defining audience interests as do education level and social class. For example, according the to the research, upper middle class educated Asians or African Americans or Hispanics have more in common with upper middle class Anglo Saxons then those with lower income levels or less education. Like it or not, the culture is changing and defining interests solely by race and age will soon to be a thing of the past.

    Although there are generational commonalties that cannot and should not be ignored, overall radio may be missing the boat here.

    Afterall, cable TV found it's market superserving this special interest lifestage niche. Here you'll find special target programming for animal lovers, (Animal planet) independent film lovers, (Bravo, Cinemax, IFC) golf enthusiasts, (The Golf Channel) antiques collectors, (The Antiques Roadshow) couples about to have a child, women's programming (Lifetime) political junkies, (C-Span) gourmet food lovers, (Food Channel) etc.

    An article in the Hollywood Reporter reminds us that the magazine publishing world learned this over the past 40 years as it migrated from mass circulation one size fits all editorial to today's multiple small niche special interest markets. These focused publications do have definable characteristics, but they set their foundations on the common interests of their readers. And arguably, though still in the early stages, the internet does a great job of superserving special interests and targeting those in various lifestages.

    In this age of continual reassessment of the entire advertising and programming equation, it is time to get rid of demographics as a marketing strategy. Demographics are characteristics of people, age, address race religion gender and nationality, and while these characteristics do define commonality, they completely overlook common interests and life stages.

    The article also reminds us that common interests elevate awareness for commercials. Advertising in special interest media is as interesting to the audience as editorial content. That means less of the ad dollar is being spent on simply getting attention and more of it goes into defining the message.

    If radio ignores this new audience fragmentation we may very well hand over receptive consumers to other media. It may be time to redefine demographics as a marketing strategy and go with special interests and LifeStage Demographics ™ instead.

    Valerie Geller is a broadcast consultant and author of Creating Powerful Radio and the Powerful Radio workbook.    Phone 212-580-3385.  She has spoken about LifeStage Demographics to the Radio Advertising Bureau, Interep Marketing Group in New York, the R&R Talk Radio Seminar andat the NAB in Europe. You will find more on LifeStage Demographics in the new book "CREATING POWERFUL RADIO: Getting, Keeping & Growing Audiences, published March 2007 from Focal Press.