Corporations are too egotistical to connect with their intended audiences.


Too often now, I’ve seen charts on charts, data on data, mass aggregation of numbers that outline target demographics and “who” their “target audience” is.

Martha, a 24 year old female, post graduate, single, lives at home, has one pet, new to gyms but not to fitness.

Seem familiar? This is a typical “demographic insight” that I’ve seen countless times from client briefs and accounts kickoffs. Companies are so proud of their data gathering tools that I think they’re out of touch with what really matters. Instead of seeing all these numbers and facts, I think companies need to start empathizing a little. And that starts with self-auditing the process by which they decide exactly to “whom” they are talking.

As much as it grosses me out, let’s talk specifically about the millennial demographic (because I’m part of it, and it seems to be the super hot button for corporations these days). It makes sense that they’re trying to capitalize on us, because we’re the next big-buyer generation that’s going to make or break the consumer industry as it evolves. But let’s take a look at something else that might seem familiar.

Millennials are killing the diamond industry.
Millennials are killing the chain restaurant industry.
Millennials are killing the wedding and real estate industry.

I bet that sounds right on the mark, yeah? Let’s revisit Martha’s profile above and talk about why it sucks so much, and why I think it doesn’t do companies any good when it comes to acquiring this holy-grail demographic.

Martha, a 24 year old female, post graduate, single, lives at home, has one pet, new to gyms but not to fitness.

So, the big problem here is that yeah, that’s a person. So what. This is something you can observe by browsing through the photos on her Facebook page (by the way, Millennials are basically the last generation to give a fuck about Facebook). But the thing is, this profile is superficial as fuck. Let’s say you run a bookstore. Martha comes into your store. How are you going to sell her a book? Are you going to look at what she’s wearing and decisively conclude that she reads Twilight and loves cookbooks? Well, you shouldn’t. Because, first of all, that’s sexist. And second of all you have no idea who this person is.

And that’s the crux of the problem I’m seeing with most of these clients who complain about “acquisition decline” and “retention loss.” Companies don’t even give a flying shit about who people are. And being raised in the media-oversaturated world, we’ve gotten really good at sniffing out insincerity, and it grosses us out. Here’s a better profile of Martha:

Martha. Hates advertising. 1984 and Farenheit 451 are her favorite books. Loves Taylor Swift to a fault. Was really sad when Vine went away. Thinks XKCD is the funniest web comic online. Calls her cat her “daughter.” Is pursuing a MD in veterinary surgery. Twitter bio is a Rick and Morty quote: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”

From this sort of profile, we can extrapolate so much more about Martha as a person. She’s smart—she’s in grad school for surgery. She likes witty, irreverent humor—XKCD and Rick and Morty tackle very high level—sometimes existential—concepts in a cheeky, often satirical way. She hates advertising and corporations because she thinks they’re evil bastards who only care about her money and subduing the public with candy floss and minutiae. But she can be loyal to a brand if it fits her values—Taylor Swift is one of the biggest brands in the entertainment world right now. She likes bite-sized media that can be consumed quickly—Twitter and Vine are based on time/character constraints.

This sort of profile is much more thorough, but it’s the kind of profile that corporations are too thick-skulled and unwilling to adopt. They’re too proud of their data-collection tools that they refuse to admit that the old tools aren’t working anymore. And that frustrates them endlessly. And then they point the finger at millennials, going “you guys aren’t spending enough money!” As if it’s our fault? It takes more work than just pointing a finger at a random girl in a coffee shop and going, “Her. I want her to buy my product.” Well, no shit, you probably want everybody to buy your product. Why so specifically millennial women? What do you know about them besides their median income range? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the problem.

This is why brands like REI, with their #OptOutside campaign on Black Friday was so fucking successful. The brand had insight on who their target market is: young, adventurous people who seek experience over material possession, even though they’re a retailer that thrives on people buying shit from them.

You want people to care about your brand? You have to care about the people first. Because we’re sick of your shit. And it’s time you figured that out if you want to be successful in advertising—or otherwise.