Knowing Your Audience

Several weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published a very interesting article about the changing demographics of the United States and the subsequent impact on political campaigns.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.

John F. Kennedy

In “A Daunting Demographic Challenge for the GOP in 2016” , the author points out how the increase in the number of African-Americans and Hispanics in the electorate will force Republicans to alter their strategy towards minorities if they expect to win the Presidential election next year.

Now, I’m not going to go into the political aspect of all of this, rather, I’d like to talk for a bit about how a similar way of thinking and looking at the underlying data is something we as marketing researchers should be practicing all of the time. Briefly, the problem for Republicans that the article points out is that, despite winning the vast majority of the White vote, Republicans historically receive less than 25% of the non-White vote. As the size of the non-White vote increases, achieving historical averages among each group leads to lower and lower vote totals overall. The parallel I’d like to make here is for marketers who target their product (or service) to a particular demographic group, or other target segment. Often, there are certain metrics that are tracked to keep apprised of the “health” of the brand. Just looking at a metric among your total customer base could be misleading. Having a thorough understanding of who comprises your customer base is vital to understanding any changes to scores over time.

As researchers, we should make a habit of looking closely as sub-segments of the population to determine any potential areas of strength – or weakness – of the product or service of interest. Just looking at the overall measure could lead you to a false sense of security. You could think everything is going along just fine, but, if as with national politics, you’re product happens to be perceived differently among different demographic groups (or target segments, etc.), you could be in for a rude awakening if and when some shift in these groups reach a critical mass. Paying attention to these shifts and understanding what the implications would be to your brand are a critical and strategic part of the researcher’s job.

Going further, it is often the case that a single product is marketed somewhat differently to these different groups. At a minimum, the messaging will be different to resonate specifically to that particular target. Understanding any looming shifts in their respective size will help you to shift resources accordingly to ensure consistent levels of satisfaction (as an example) within a specific group. Of course it may also be necessary to increase resources to an underperforming group that is growing in importance (or size). All of this is further proof that just doing the same thing, “because we’ve always done it that way” is not a particularly winning strategy. Staying current with your market and understanding what makes it tick are critical to the success of your brand and your company.

~ Bud Sanders

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