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Marketing demographics: what they are and how to apply them

Learning about marketing demographics will help you launch successful products and campaigns.

You already know that market research is integral to the success of your business. Today, we’ll explore a particular type of market research, marketing demographics, and learn about their role in your marketing strategies. 

Marketing demographics are used in customer segmentation to find specific groups in your target audience. This knowledge is then used to market to each segment more specifically for more effective marketing strategies. Let’s take a closer look at marketing demographics.

Markets may be segmented in several ways, including demographics, geographics, psychographics, and behaviors. Marketing demographics include characteristics such as age, geographic location, education level, occupation, income, etc. that are used to create groups and segment a market. 

Marketing demographics utilize information that’s easily accessible. Segmenting with demographics allows you to narrow and customize your marketing strategy to target potential customers who fit into a specific demographic market.

As part of your marketing strategy, you need to include demographic segmentation to gain the following benefits.

Use your marketing dollars wisely—don’t waste capital advertising to a market that doesn’t need or want your product. Demographic segmentation allows you to target relevant customers and avoid wasting marketing and advertising funds on people who simply won’t be interested in your product.

For example, a small startup children’s picture book publisher has a limited budget. To ensure a higher return on advertising spend (ROAS) and return on investment (ROI), the owners are looking at demographics before determining their marketing strategy. 

Rather than spending time and money on marketing for a generic audience, use demographic segmentation to create messaging that appeals to the part of your audience that is most likely to buy your product. 

For example, our small children’s picture book publisher has done its research. It decided to use different marketing messaging for different demographic segments. A portion of its budget is used to attract children in the 3-8-year-old age range because we all know how powerfully children express their wants and needs. Those eye-catching campaigns will feature lots of colors and pictures with characters from the publisher’s books. The larger portion is directed to married adults who are 21-35 and have children. Those campaigns promote reading to your children and how their books are perfect for increasing your child’s desire to learn to read. The two campaigns will be very different and personalized to each group. 

With demographic segmentation, you can ensure that people seeing your marketing messaging find that your product is relevant to them.

Back to our book publisher, older children, middle-aged adults, and seniors are less likely to shop for picture books, so they are not targeted for messaging.

Marketing that is personalized to a specific customer resonates on a human level. Companies can provide that they understand their customers’ pain points and that they want to help them solve their problems. Customers then feel valued and become returning customers with increased loyalty.

Our small picture book publisher used market research to find out more about their main target market, parents. They found that many parents are concerned about having time to read to their children. The company’s marketing department created a campaign to highlight the importance of reading to your kids and that their company has several titles that can be read in brief periods of time. They even released a free download about “squeezing reading in,” along with a coloring sheet for children.

The most useful demographic characteristics for your marketing strategies are age, gender, income, family status, religion/race/nationality, and education. Let’s look at each one of these demographics and examples of how they can be used in marketing.

One of the first demographic traits you’ll likely use is age. This is a critical variable for most markets. Age may be defined in various ways, such as:

  • Ranges (the following are for example purposes)
    • 18-24
    • 25-34
    • 35-54
    • 55+
  • Life stages
    • Children
    • Adolescents
    • Adults
    • Seniors
  • Generations
    • Traditionalist or Silent: Born approximately 1945 and before
    • Baby Boomers: born approximately 1946-1964
    • Generation X: born approximately 1965-1976
    • Millennials or Gen Y: born approximately 1977-1995
    • Gen Z or Centennials: born approximately 1996-2015
    • Generation Alpha: born approximately 2016-2024

Whether you use age range, life stage, or generation to define your target market, you’ll find that each defined demographic has its own values and preferences that can be used to personalize your advertising and marketing for maximum effectiveness.

An example of effective marketing using the age demographic is the Dollar Shave Club (DSC). Their target market is men in the age range of 18-34. Their marketing, advertising, and social media all rely heavily on humor that appeals to that demographic. 

For example, here’s a recent tweet from DSC: 

Would you rather:

1. Pluck your entire mustache

2. Use superglue as shave cream

Using gender demographics for your marketing requires extra attention to detail. If your product does not depend on gender, use other traits to define your marketing plan.

When collecting gender information via survey, we recommend making the questions optional and adding a section for explanation. For example:

Gender: How do you identify?
Prefer to self-describe (provide open text box)

An example of marketing using gender as a variable for targeting would be Free People women’s clothing. Their advertising and marketing target women 18-34 who identify their personal style as bohemian or eclectic. 

A recent marketing campaign on their social media offers images of celebrities (some in character from popular media) with links to Free People clothing pieces that can be used to recreate the looks.

The Ordinary is a skincare company that offers solutions based on skin concerns rather than gender. The Ordinary website features a very clean, modern look and does not rely on models to demonstrate products. 

Parent company DECIEM The Abnormal Beauty Company features employees of all genders using their products in social media posts. 

If you’re using income as a demographic characteristic for your marketing, what you’re really looking for is buying power. Retail stores such as Walmart market to middle- and lower-income people who have less disposable income. Luxury car retailers target high-income individuals. Some companies have a range of products that appeal to more than one demographic.

An income demographic survey question might look like this:

What was the total combined income of your household in 2021?

  • $0-$9,999
  • $10,000-$39,999
  • $40,000-$69,999
  • $70,000-$84,999
  • $85,000 or more
  • Prefer not to say

An example of a company with tiered options for customers across income levels would be Chevrolet (Chevy). The car company offers compact vehicles for $13K-$23K, trucks starting at $25K, and high-end performance vehicles for up to $105K. They also offer a wide range of SUVs that range from $22K-$56K, along with electric vehicles and commercial trucks and vans.

Marketing at Chevrolet uses multiple demographic traits, including income, to appeal to customers with a variety of vehicle needs.

Spending habits vary widely between single people and families. Changes in family units, such as divorce, death, or having a first child, all affect buying habits. Understanding that single people usually prioritize spending on themselves, and couples with children are looking for low-cost bulk purchases can effectively direct your marketing efforts.

To determine family status on a survey, you may choose to ask some of the following questions, using skip logic to direct respondents on the best path. 

What is your marital status?

  • Married
  • Single
  • Divorced
  • Widowed
  • Prefer not to answer

How many adults live in your home?

  • 1
  • 2-3
  • More than 4
  • Prefer not to answer

How many children under 18 years of age live in your household?

  • None
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4+

From your family status data, you should be able to segment your data into single people, newly married couples, families with children, and empty nesters. Depending on your product or service, you can adjust your marketing endeavors accordingly.

HelloFresh meal kits market their service as a healthy eating option with boxes that feed two or four people. The kits are customizable for special diets and provide recipe cards so the meals can be recreated. 

Family status is used in marketing to couples as fast, healthy meals and to families as a fast alternative that’s enjoyable for kids.

Segmenting by religion/race/nationality is predominantly used in the food sector. For example, kosher food markets and restaurants selling ingredients from a variety of cultures.

Depending on your particular business, you may use inclusive marketing to draw in customers from a variety of backgrounds. You can also target a very narrow market with specific cultural interests.

Asia Food Market caters to those looking for groceries that are Chinese, Japanese, or Korean in origin. They sell everything from seafood to baked goods to prepared meals that are all Asian favorites. Asia Food Market targets Asian customers who want authentic ingredients.

Segmenting your marketing demographics by education level is based on the assumption that education level is related to a person’s standard of living and lifestyle. Education demographics may ask about the level of education, school, or area of study, depending on the product or service being marketed.

An education demographic on a survey may look like this:

What is the highest level of school you’ve completed or the highest degree you have received?

  • Less than a high school degree
  • High school graduate or equivalent
  • Some college
  • Associate’s degree
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Graduate degree

An example of a company using educational demographics would be tech companies like Apple targeting high school graduates who are heading to college. They know these students will be looking for laptops, so their marketing uses popular music and culture references that will appeal to them. Apple also offers education pricing for faculty, staff, homeschool teachers, college students, and parents.

Another use of educational demographics is to appeal to alumni for donations to the colleges they attended.

Marketing demographics are very useful for reaching your target audience. For best results, keep these tips in mind:

  • Avoid stereotyping or assuming that everyone in a particular demographic will have the same needs and wants.
  • Never alienate a demographic in your attempts to appeal to another one.
  • Ensure that your brand voice stays consistent, even if you only address one demographic.
  • Carefully consider the demographic variable you’re targeting. For example, use income as a variable for luxury products; don’t use gender for food products.
  • Society is always changing. Keep your marketing demographics up to date and adapt to changes as needed.
  • Individuals will change their demographic segment over time, so monitor and optimize your marketing accordingly.
  • Make sure you can measure the performance of your chosen demographic variable. You’ll need to measure and analyze segment performance on a regular basis.

Marketing demographics play a significant role in customer segmentation. Increase customer loyalty and personalization, improve product relevance, and find greater marketing efficiencies with marketing demographics today. Start with a demographic survey from SurveyMonkey. 

Our market research solutions include SurveyMonkey Audience, a fast, easy way to collect demographic information based on your needs. With Audience, you’ll receive consistent, high-quality responses. Get started today!

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