Don't Rely on Age-Based Categories to Market to Women

Defining a female audience by age is a time-honored marketing tradition. It’s simple, and at a glance, gives what would seem to be a snapshot of the target consumer.

But does a set of numbers really capture the needs and interests of all women who fall within a given age group? A moment of consideration quickly reveals the pitfalls in this approach. Yet still we see brands engaging in this antiquated method of dividing and defining the consumer through age-based categories.

A slightly more elevated approach employs a consideration of where a consumer is in her life, rather than just her age. In other words, this approach looks at women in individual categories, such as empty nesters, retirees, professionals, or, heaven forbid, more intimate descriptors such as menopausal or presbyopic.

But I would argue that this method is still missing a critical communications consideration when it comes to boomer women in particular. Boomer women, perhaps more than any other age-based demographic, are driven by their passions. They are passionate about their families, passionate about their work, their hobbies, their communities, and their friends. A far more effective (and commonsense) approach is one that taps into these passions and generates communications opportunities based on similar interests—an approach I call like-minded marketing.

Like-minded marketing differs significantly from life-stage marketing. Whereas life-stage marketing creates buckets that define women by their situations in life, like-minded marketing taps into the driving forces of a woman’s life and opens the doors for a marketer to develop far more effective communications opportunities. Think about it for a moment. You’ve seen it in action when a woman begins to speak about something that she cares about. An energy builds, and an enthusiasm and openness occur when she senses you care about the same subject. This is the energy and enthusiasm an effective marketing team taps into when creating communications programs targeting boomer women.

Consider this. One 55-year-old woman may be at the peak of her career — driven to excel professionally and committed to her company’s success. This focus on her career helps define her and overrides many other life-concerns. Another 55-year-old woman, although involved in a challenging career, may be far more enveloped in the lives of her high school children than with her job. Her spare time is spent on the bleachers at school games cheering on her daughter’s basketball team or running the parent’s fundraiser for new band uniforms. Yet another 55-year-old woman is totally absorbed by the trials of dealing with her father’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease, and when she is not at work she may be found lobbying her local government representative to provide more money for cure research.

Three different women—all 55 years old. All professionals with a similar income, but with a very different passions. Will the same messaging vehicle capture their attention? Will the same type of messaging resonate with each of them?

Building a brand in today’s highly competitive, consumer-driven marketplace hinges on building a lasting relationship between the brand and the consumer. How you define that consumer and how you choose to engage her with your brand will determine if you will still be here when the recession turns around.

Julia Brannan Co-founder M&J Marketing Communications New York

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