Marketers slice and dice demography as we target consumers but we should really be looking at sets of identities and associations to define our communications targets.

With today’s data, demographics seem like a crude, unsharpened scalpel — a blunt instrument.  Grouping people into ten year age breaks, or $25,000 income splits doesn’t really reach the kind of precision needed to know the target.

These, and education, were easily quantifiable back in the day, so they were easy to use to define groups to target media to.

But ask yourself.  Do you consider yourself to be 34 to 49?

If you are actually, factually 41 years old (about the midpoint in the break), psychologically you probably consider yourself to be in your early-30’s.  So doesn’t that demographic targeting really miss you altogether?  I always figure people act and feel like they are half their age + 12; that is, if you are 41 you think you are 20.5 + 12 or about 31.  Try it on yourself and see if it works.

So with demographics being imprecise why have we used them for so long.  Why do media sell themselves against 18 to 34 or 25 to 54 or whatever break?  The answer is that there is a number.  And from that number we can figure Reach and Frequency and calculate GRPs against the defined target.

But buying on-line media, why do we need imprecision?  We can buy users of the product we are selling, or those with identity sets that match users profiles.

Here’s what I mean:

Think of each individual as analogous to a living cell.

There is a certain DNA for the cell to start with that provides some ethnicity and gender.  From that moment on this cell absorbs associations and connections through a number identifiers… from education, to geographical area, to pet ownership, product usage, religion, gender orientation, interests, opinions, on-line preferences, brands used and so on.  Some interests are jettisoned from the cell from time to time as interest wanes.

Each of us as an entity absorbs and rejects interests.  I can be defined as not liking Death Metal music as easily as I can be defined as reading about psychology.  But each of us is a portfolio of identities within our dividing membrane of interests and memberships.

With the right kind of research we can define product users through their affinities.  I have been involved with the kind of research in the past that defined gasoline buyers by regression analysis to group them into five different “autographics” and fast food users into six eater groups.  This defines people with a propensity to use the products from the products point of view.

Identity sets allow us to understand the customer and the customers’ affiliations from Facebook to purchase patterns.  Neat stuff.

That allows the kind of targeting that lets us really know our customers.  That allows us to communicate more effectively in the message and deliver it to the places that they go to seek information.

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