(Originally posted in Entrepreneur.com)
The impending Mad Men series finale is causing a stir in the social sphere: Viewers are reluctant to say goodbye to the characters, who represent the quintessential ’60s experience. One reason may be the intimate look the series has depicted of the advertising industry during that decade. Another may be its insightful glimpse into a time of hard-and-set demographic lines — which in turn provides a significant lesson for modern business owners.
In short: We’re no longer in the Mad Men era, and our marketing shouldn’t be, either.
Today, lines between gender, culture and age are fuzzy. Same-sex couples are having babies. Americans have a black president. Knowledge workers have replaced industrial workers, and we’re living longer. So we’re able to make more and spend more.
Given these blurred lines, narrowing your startup’s target market into specific demographics is no longer an effective branding strategy. Instead, emphasizing “psychographics,” which reveals people’s behavior and mindset, rather than demographics, will result in higher consumer engagement and more brand visibility.
Why psychographics trumps demographics
When psychographics — the study of people’s values, opinions and attitudes — first found its way into scholarly journals in the ’60s, the challenge it posed was considered too challenging. To obtain the interests, attitudes and opinions of a market meant commissioning time-consuming, expensive and bias-ridden surveys.
When compared to demographics — which comprises age, gender, ethnicity, income and location — the practice of collecting psychographic information was pushed aside, and no wonder.
With demographics, stereotypes predominated: A person was either a man or a woman. People were black, white, Hispanic or Asian. Those over 65 were retired with grown kids and seeking a condo in Florida. There was no accounting for the types of people those individuals actually were.
Sure, stereotypes still exist in the modern era, but they shouldn’t inform marketing strategies. And relying on demographics is getting riskier for brands. Content for Millennial stereotypes, for example, may come across as boring or clumsily deceptive. And brands for Hispanics are failing because merely translating the same irrelevant content into Spanish doesn’t cut it.
Values-based marketing, on the other hand, allows you to address 100 percent of your market. So even as consumer mindsets and values constantly change, you can tweak your messaging accordingly. But first, you have to determine which values make sense for your company and its offering.
Putting psychographics into play
To determine which values best fit your company’s offerings, start with your brand’s value proposition. What makes it stand out from others in consumers’ minds? It’s important that your marketing show your brand’s true colors. Knowing yourself and your team will ensure that you don’t send mixed messages to your audience.
One brand that has done this well is Red Bull. According to a case study, Red Bull represents adventure, wit, confidence, spontaneity and irony. The energy drink company lives out these values by mounting global events, such as the Red Bull Air Race, which showcase bold, risk-taking athletes.
Other great examples include Coca-Cola, which presents itself as committed to customer happiness; and United Airlines, which has improved its service to satisfy customers’ desire for relaxation and rewards.
The message here is that if you’re working with an established brand, do psychographic testing on leading and lagging markets. For example, BMW is favored over Mercedes in the United Kingdom because consumers there display the inner-directed values which align with BMW’s branding. Use this research to identify and prioritize markets.
Finally, consider the opportunity to create lifestyle content that appeals to your target market’s mindset. Lifestyle content may feature men or women of any age and any ethnicity. It doesn’t even have to include people; perhaps it’s just an inspirational slogan, such as “Just do it.” Interestingly, 60 percent of Nike’s Facebook posts featured lifestyle content in 2014, and its call-to-action posts were shared about 993 times each.
The Adidas brand, on the other hand, shared lifestyle content only 32 percent of the time and garnered only about 122 shares for each of its call-to-action posts.
The Mad Men era may be over, then, but the era of values-based marketing has arrived — and it poses unique and infinite opportunities for creative marketing approaches. If you do some brand soul-searching, stay true to your core values and curate content that appeals to your target’s mindset, you’ll enjoy Don Draper-worthy consumer engagement without even a hint of the now-dated ’60s.