It seems sales and marketing professionals agree with comedian George Carlin. Life can pretty much be reduced to ‘stuff.’ It is all about getting your stuff, storing you stuff, moving your stuff, exchanging it for other stuff and eventually getting rid of your stuff. After all, isn’t marketing and advertising all about communicating the value of stuff to consumers in order to motivate them to action? About hyping features and benefits?
To reverse declining effectiveness of advertising and marketing strategies, ad agencies and research companies have been creating and pitching a variety of typologies in order to successfully segment or target consumer groups. While the age based typologies generate revenue for the creators, those embracing them cannot make the same claim as marketplace results are marginal at best. As the late David B. Wolfe advised in Serving the Ageless Market, marketers should be studying developmental life values and aspirations in order to understand three experiential life stages and motivations defined by their aspirations: Possession Experience Stage, Catered Experience Stage and Being Experience Stage.
The Possession Experience Stage
As young consumers leave home they need ‘stuff” not only for necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation. The stuff also provides a way to enhance their identity and esteem as visible evidence of who they are and what they have accomplished. This experiential stage extends from approximately age 18 to the mid to late 30s. Possessions range from mundane household goods and clothing to peak possessions such as the first new care or home. These possessions become metaphors for who we are or desire to be in our youth. Some never really leave this stage and fully mature and others may skip it with little focus on material possessions. Of course, consumers always will pursue some possessions but the motivations clearly change as consumers mature. Obviously, this is the experiential life stage which gave birth to the advertising industry.
Being Experience Stage
As adults begin to face their mortality their focus becomes more internalized as they consider their legacy. Of course, we can have “being experiences” throughout life such as falling in love, having children, a patriotic event etc. In life’s third experiential stage, consumers develop an enhanced sense of connectedness to family, friends and community with a sharpened sense of reality and life appreciation. They tend to see things in shades of grey rather than the black and white perceptions of youth. Older adults are more interested in value than price, treasure their personal autonomy and resent those that challenge it. Peak experiences in this stage might include grandchildren, volunteering, pursuing aspirations, and addressing any regrets.
As stated, marketing and advertising came of age as veterans returned from World War II and began creating the Baby Boom and thus driving incredible market demand for products…all kinds of stuff. Since the vast majority of the consuming public were in their possession experience stage for several decades, companies could treat them all the same…a mass market. In the mass market, the desired demographic were 18 to 38 years olds for about 4 decades. However, as the Baby Boomers and their parents moved into their catered and being experience years, advertising effectiveness declined dramatically. The media’s only response was increasing the targeted demo from 18 to 38 and slowly increased the upper end to 49, when the life of consumers is consider over according to the media.
Today age 50 plus consumers represent over half of adult consumers and control 70 to 80% of all discretionary money. Sought after Millennials are a huge demographic and almost all in their Possession Experience Stage, but Generation X has moved on and are now entering their Being Experience Stage. Traditional segmentation based solely on age and income are outdated and typologies are little more than a distraction served up to defend outdated marketing strategies.
It is time for a paradigm shift in marketing principles and approach. It is time to give experiential segmentation and ageless marketing a chance to revolutionize the profession of marketing. It is time to recognize that the greatest demographic shift in history is now impacting everything from products and services to workplace opportunities and HR policies.
- By G. Richard ‘Dick’ Ambrosius
Richard Ambrosius is the President of Positive Aging LLC, a national marketing consulting and training. He has been educating companies, nonprofit organizations and public agencies on how to better communicate with and serve middle age and older adults for 35 years and was among the first in the U.S. to realize the potential of the new consumer majority and specialize in older markets.
He has delivered keynote addresses and motivational workshops in 49 states and is the author of the Choices & Changes…a positive aging guide to life planning (Xlibris Publishing, 2006). Ambrosius can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.