my turn

Commentary

Do Age And Gender Matter?

Age and gender are the foundation upon which the great majority of marketing plans and creative are built. In most cases, this information is inferred based on the collection of syndicated data such as Nielsen or consumers' actual behavior offline (e.g. purchase history) and online (e.g. web browsing history).

These data have been considered so valuable historically that virtually all companies involved in product marketing and the buying and selling of media have dedicated significant resources to understand and reach specific sets of consumers based on these two demographic points. They key word here is "historically."

It's no longer efficient or effective to target consumers based on narrow, potentially inaccurate demographic points at a moment in time when there is much more insightful information available to drive targeting decisions. Acknowledging that there is some "prospecting" involved in many mass media buys, marketers buying just age and gender never the less run the risk of wasting impressions on uninterested consumers or missing an audience that may be exactly the right customers to embrace, and possibly evangelize, the message and the product. The new media ecosystem can yield data that enables targeting based on rich, multi-dimensional profiles of consumers, and reduce the risk of waste.

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The fact is, self-selecting interests and actions are more important targeting barometers than age and gender.

Customers also don't behave as you would expect based on their age or gender. Consumers today have shattered conventional mores, and it is not possible to neatly categorize entire segments of the population. Is the electronics marketer reaching Men 18-34 to sell gadgets, games and technology? Or are they also considering the suburban Mom who is, in her own right, a serious consumer in this category as well as an influencer for her peers through reviews, commenting, and blogging? Is the mortgage broker targeting Men and Women 34-49? Or are they thinking about the 24-year old venture-backed entrepreneur who may be exactly the right candidate for a jumbo loan?

Messaging is being driven largely by traditional media standards, but basing executions solely on targeting by age can be particularly ineffective. For example, the idea that a: 30 spot developed for a daytime television audience will resonate with that audience online is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. It is merely economical. Online messaging affords marketers an opportunity to tailor messaging in terms of both creativity and offer based on the customer behavior as opposed to an age group.

Ad targeting is not a one dimensional solution for marketers. Early online targeting based on IP address evolved to incorporate inferred age and gender. The next genesis brought contextual targeting based on adjacency and relevance to market. Contextual targeting is now only part of the picture, with behavioral targeting, or targeting based on browser history, a key decision-making factor. Later stage targeting can capture actual age and gender when the user offers it via profile. However, we are still using age and gender, inferred or actual, as a foundation.

Successful marketers understand and accept that their new customers won't fit into the historically correct box. These marketers will embrace the diversity of all potential customers based on what they tell us through their behavior, interests and actions.

New, highly evolved technology allows marketers to get a deep, nearly 360 degree profile of potential customers. We can combine demographics where available and reliable and the traditional online behavioral targeting metrics, such as contextual relevance with insights based on the consumers' social interaction with any media.

Understanding who customers are and what they might purchase adds previously unavailable dimension. For example we have found that people who create content online tend to be more affluent. In and of itself a tentative data bit, but when combined with factual data on what they're actually doing and how that relates to the content being created, a profile of the user emerges that is far more accurate and actionable than would be available using demographics alone.

5 comments about "Do Age And Gender Matter? ".
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  1. Tim Daly, September 18, 2009 at 5:28 a.m.

    Ms. Glickman unfortunately misses a major point with her analysis. First, I am not sure what marketer is targeting based only on age and gender. Second, the question that needs to be asked is "How did these self-selected interests and actions occur in the first place?". If a person didn't know something exist, how did they know they were interested?

    Behavioral targeting solutions that sit as order bucket captures are delivering only half of what advertisers want. They serve a purpose of backing up the dollars already spent targeting people by "age and gender" to establish brand presence and define the interests. Audience targeting is what advertisers are seeking and they want not only self-selected interest and action, but also age and gender to model upon. The gravy train of sitting at the end of the assembly line with the order capture bucket will only last so long before Advertisers wake up.

    As an industry, we need to focus on how we address this problem and offer the solution. As analytic solutions hit the marketplace over the course of the next two years, the bloom will be off the rose that self-selected interest targeting by themselves, which is how media is being sold right now, doesn't truly grow business. If online media providers truly want to get their hands on the offline media budgets, it will take effectively offering the demographic and psychographic variables that Ms. Glickman suggests lack value.

  2. Adam Broitman from Kiip, September 18, 2009 at 7:10 a.m.

    Tim

    I don't think that Rachel is saying that demographic and psychographic elements lack value. Rather, she seems to be saying that, for too long, we have only looked at these factors--and it is just not enough. We need to move beyond these factors, but in an additive manner.

    They don't lack value; there is simply more value out there.

    Also, I am not sure what you meant with this statement,

    "As analytic solutions hit the marketplace over the course of the next two years, the bloom will be off the rose that self-selected interest targeting by themselves, which is how media is being sold right now, doesn't truly grow business."

    I seem to be missing your point with this, but feel it is the crux of your hypothesis. Would you mind clarifying?

  3. Rachel Glickman from Lotame Inc., September 18, 2009 at 9:41 a.m.

    Tim,

    Adam is correct. I believe there is more value out there. I would also say that lack of age and gender doesn't negate the value of other information like self selected interests combined with insights based on engagement.

    I do agree that order bucket capture is not the future of BT. The real value is absolutely in identifying the right audience. But is that audience only valuable if age and gender information exist? Or can marketers expand their target if engagement indicates behavioral interest and merits inclusion in the audience? The same way order bucket capture doesn't represent the power of targeting, I think marketers are missing opportunity if they similarly bucket consumers using age and gender as the only relevant foundation for defining the target audience.

  4. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, September 18, 2009 at 9:50 a.m.

    "Customers also don't behave as you would expect based on their age or gender."

    I agree "expectations" are really assumptions, and no matter how much research organizations do - gender and age are usually the default and most focused-on segmentation tools. The lazy way out is to start and stop there. The better way - as you point out, Rachel, is to first consider behaviors, interests and actions... gender and age may well be helpful to consider after you've sorted those out. With gender, in particular, how men and women buy is important - but more and more, historically gendered consumer decision-making characteristics are exactly that ( to re-emphasize your emphasis, Rachel) - historical.

  5. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, September 18, 2009 at 10:48 a.m.

    You should really spend some time in the trenches to see what today's marketers are doing with segmentation - way, way, way beyond "traditional" age and gender. That was "traditional" about 10 years ago.

    Spend a day with an agency strategic planner, then maybe the next day with someone from a marketer's analytics team.

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