There are plenty of good reasons why marketers divide customers into easily-identifiable groups: lackluster sales in a coveted demographic, for instance, can inform changes to a marketing strategy but, as society evolves, there may be more valuable to removing the walls that have traditionally been built between market segments, according to Michael Solomon, professor of marketing at Saint Joseph’s University and author of Marketers, Tear Down These Walls!: Liberating the Postmodern Consumer.
Tips to marketers in today’s economy
“Age” is a social construct. While much has been made of Millennials and Gen Z and exactly how marketers should court them, lines between generations are blurring. Older consumers are living more vibrant lives and feel younger than their numerical age would suggest. Meanwhile, the transition from childhood to adolescence has broadened into a new category — “tweens” — that requires a different selling approach than the groups on either side. “Even the wall between parents and their kids is coming down,” Solomon observes. “Many young consumers report that their parents are their best friends! Quite a switch from ‘never trust anyone over 30.’”
Consumers today tend to “buy by committee.” Where a customer’s journey to a purchase used to be fairly linear — identify a need, find several options and choose the best — it is now more complicated. Solomon notes that “our connections to ‘friends’ via social media is giving rise to a hive mind, where even the simplest decisions get made only after consultation with our networks.” And, consumers do a lot more research before they actually buy something – and often have already decided by the time they enter the store (online or offline). For this reason, it’s important for brands to connect with their customer at multiple times and on multiple levels.
There is no “offline” life anymore. Companies must understand specifically how their audience interacts online because most people make no distinction between their lives on and off the Internet. Websites and social media personalities are as important to a company as storefronts and customer service employees. Solomon notes, “We’ve moved from ‘You are what you buy’ to ‘You are what you post.’”
Authenticity is king. The distinction between producer and consumer is largely obsolete. From social media “nano-stars” to do-it-yourselfers and the rise of artisan products, people crave products and brands with a long history and a believable story with which they can identify. “Today, everyday consumers are art directors, artisans, merchants, and even taxi drivers and hoteliers,” Solomon notes. “People want to be involved in the production as well as in the consumption of what they use.”
Embrace the “extended self.” People identify with their possessions now more than ever, to the point where there is sometimes a little distinction between the self and the stuff. Marketers need to reduce the risk that buyers feel when considering their product by offering the consumer multiple ways to picture themselves already owning the item. Whether leveraging augmented-reality technology to show what a coach would look like in a customer’s living room or create a strong “brand personality” that makes the product part of the person’s identity, eliminating the barrier between considering a product and actually having it is key. As Solomon says, “We don’t buy things because of what they do. We buy them because of what they mean.”
Opportunities lurk between the walls. Most companies tend to think in terms of traditional industry “verticals” and they only view their competition as the other brands that also operate there. Consumers, on the other hand, freely sample products across verticals and they are open to new “hybrid products” that combine the best features of multiple categories. For example, the booming “athleisure” market integrates styling from traditional athleticwear and leisurewear verticals and is a huge success story as a result. “Marketers and designers need to think horizontally across traditional categories rather than just vertically,” Solomon advises. “They can be sure their customers are.”