Aging Audience Dying? Or Just Evolving?
“Our audience is dying. We need to attract a younger audience to get sales back up.” I've heard this over and over for years from both consumer and business catalogers.
Yet their age-range demographic reports usually show counts remaining stable, not declining. What's up?
While it’s true for catalogers with older customer bases that a portion of that audience will indeed pass on to the Great Beyond each year, younger folks are also aging and entering the core age group each year. So excluding other factors, the total core audience size should remain about stable.
Be Alert to Audience Shifts Within Each Age Group
Here's one big, ongoing change: for a given age range (e.g., 45-65, etc.) people entering that age range are unlike the people leaving it.
To see why that matters, look at the chart below for people age 50
People born in 1930 grew up during the Great Depression, probably watched Shirley Temple movies, saw the start of World War II as youngsters, and may have helped tend a Victory Garden to stretch the family groceries. When they reached college age in 1948, they were listening to Frankie Laine sing "Mule Train," Perry Como sing "Some Enchanted Evening" and Dinah Shore sing "Buttons and Bows." Many got jobs in the post-WWII boom, others went off to fight in Korea.
Got that vision in your mind?
Now let's compare that to a person born 30 years later in 1960.
People born in 1960 watched as youngsters as Neil Armstrong took man's first step on the moon, as well as coverage of the Vietnam War and Nixon/Watergate scandal on TV. During their college-age years, they were listening to Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and Billy Joel, reading the brand-new "Far Side" comic, and keeping their heat turned down due to the energy crisis.
A person's formative years are about age 11-19. That's when many basic values and tastes are set. Therefore, a 1980 catalog for 50-year-olds needed to look very different from a 2010 catalog for 50-year-olds because those 50-year-olds were unlike each other.
Learn How to Resonate With Your Audience Age Group’s Sensibilities
Fast-forward to today. You need to understand the tastes, values and sensibilities that your target audience grew up with during their formative years. How? Let's say that your biggest age-range demographic is 45-65. Make a chart for that group similar to the chart above. For everyone turning age 45-65 within the next year, compute their birth year as well as the calendar years starting and ending their formative years (again, about age 11-19).
Now you have a date range of their formative years. For that date range, gather lists of music, movies, TV shows, world events plus visuals like ads, album covers and magazines to get a feeling for the colors, typography and design styles forming those folk's formative years memories.
Don’t Design to Match a "Formative Years" Style, However
Creative that works needs to be a fusion of your customers’ formative years' foundation plus what they've lived through since.
Formative years set a base. That base is significant, but those 50-year-olds have also been seeing and hearing contemporary TV, music, ads, magazines and more for 30 years since the base was laid. How to add that in?
Study What They’re Doing and Seeing Now
Study your demographic reports. Try to get additional information from your modeling vendors. Conduct surveys (online and via postcard) for what magazines they read, catalogs they shop from, etc.
Now with a better understanding of your audience, you'll be able to create an updated look that combines "then" with "now" in a way that respects their whole life and values, and resonates with who they are now. You're on your way to increased response and sales.