Marketers tend to focus much attention on various cohorts — Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials being the primary groups on everyone’s radar today. Yet, another important element of deeply understanding your target consumer is an understanding of their life-stage.
Understanding the underlying needs of a consumer during different life stages greatly impacts how you communicate the benefits of your product, from advertising to all product design cues, and may uncover new audiences for your products.
Life-stage differs from age bracket or cohort in that life-stages are dependent on life events. While life events often correspond to age, there are many events that are more age independent, especially with the diversity in modern lifestyles.
This difference between age and life stage became apparent to me in talking with mothers of toddlers. Take this example:
These three women actually have more life needs in common than basic age breaks or cohort analysis would indicate.
Let's examine some of the main life stages of adult women.
In Self-Discovery, life is in the present with a sense of invincibility and the belief all things are possible: "I can do or be anything." This stage is about independence; completing the separation from parents, yet bonding with other females. There can be a sense of wildness (counter-culture beliefs/dress, figuring out gender and partnerships) and/or the challenge of body image. Modern women in this stage are tech savvy, globally aware and have a desire to challenge the status quo, yet still view either family, the search for a mate or their career as the primary determinant in their first life structure.
Transition into the next life stage happens when children appear and/or a high focus is placed on career advancement.
During the Busy Years, most women are having children, so this is predominantly a “mom” life stage. Career-only focused women do have a bit of the busy-year life stage as they often put their nurturing into work creations, extended families, and/or volunteering.
The Busy Years woman is balancing significant responsibility: parenthood, career development and household management. In today’s world, kids are a full-time job, so mom has limited or no time for self. Time management is her primary life need.
Transition to the next stage coincides with children gaining independence or personally hitting a career level.
Holding On/Holding Off
This next life-stage is primarily about maintaining power. This life stage has recognition of body betrayal and wanting to overpower sins of the past; to reclaim past (missed) glory and hold off the decline: "I want my old life back." There might still be responsibilities (mid-life leadership positions, un-launched children, aging parents), but there is more time for “me.” While a bit cliché, there is a reality of mid-life — everything from anti-aging and weight management, to divorce and career changes, to find “my real self.”
Transition to the next stage often comes with menopause, retirement, grandchildren, or a major illness wake-up call.
This life-stage has always been around, but now so many more people are in it for a longer time with the increased life expectancy and size of the Baby Boomer cohort. This life-stage has been called the “use it or lose it” stage and is one of wisdom, vitality and re-invention. A key element of this stage is the dichotomy of recognition of physical changes with an awareness of still moving forward with more years to experience: "I know things have changed but I want to do whatever I can." There is an increased health focus and an amazing zest for life — a desire for continued independence, continued learning, and comfort. This is not the original concept of retirement years.
Transition to next stage comes with loss of independence due to physical or mental decline.
This life-stage is more synonymous with the old concept of retirement. In this stage of life, one comes to terms with approaching death, often managing through declining health and immune system failure. There is spiritual preparation and life simplification. Because of declining health, women are often more sedentary and dependent (cared for).
As marketers dig into deep consumer understanding, it’s helpful to determine what life-stages they are targeting. Is there growth opportunity in your consumer product category to target different or multiple life-stages?