Grandma breaks all demographics

Age 18 to 25. No kids. Mid to high-income level. They are the ‘adventurous shoppers’. Age 25 to 38. Millennials with 2.4 kids. High to very high-income level. They are the ‘glam-blitz spenders’. The list goes on.

We are so used to this type of demographic labelling and audience segmentation, that we rarely stop to ask – is it still useful? Imagine you are doing customer research on a family-oriented venue exploring customer habits – what they order, when they order it, and how they behave. Now picture a family of four – mum, dad, older kid and younger kid.

In the context of this scenario, the mum is ‘just’ the mum. The things that she does are categorised as ‘mum-like behaviours’. We segment this audience type with a fancy, catchy title, like ‘do-it-all mums’ or ‘power mothers’.

But people are not just one thing because it is convenient and manageable for our decks and reports to say so. Customers are as multi-dimensional as, well, anyone. The mum could go to the venue as an ‘executive entrepreneur’ type, that is there to close a deal or as a ‘high-income friend group’ when she is having dinner with her friends.

The point is – we keep trying to pigeonhole our customers into one category because it’s a nice, clean way to organise people and behaviours, but research shows that we are anything but.

Here are three useful tactics you can use to avoid falling into the trap of the ‘perfect’ audience segmentation: Recognise that you will not get a full 100 per cent spread

Instead of expecting a ‘perfect’ segmentation – try to create the biggest groups you can, with the widest spread possible, and aim to target a ‘majority’ of potential audiences. You will rarely capture the full scope – there are too many outliers and fringe cases to make this feasible, most of the time.

Try to frame it in a way that has a higher degree of certainty to capture ‘most’, than a lower degree of certainty to capture ‘all’. Segment groups based on common behaviours, not just age, but on common fears and desires, not just income but personality traits, and not just their backgrounds.

Start with one persona and expand on motivations. Think of the lifecycle of the experience for the same user in different contexts.

In the same way that you may not talk the same with your parents, with your friends, or with your colleagues – we find that creating a persona that can jump from segment to segment, with different motivations, incentives and fears, is extremely useful.


We are creating a character that we can add some real depth to, rather than four or five that never go beyond one stock image and a fake name.

Doing this allows us to think about the many dimensions a campaign can take; a retail journey can become a playdate for the kids, a life-saver in the middle of a busy corporate week, or a very special memory every once in a while.

It’s easier to get invested in a persona that feels real and goes through a journey, than on a catchy audience segment title that gets archived alongside dozens of others.

Focus on emotions over demographic data. We love data as much as the next agency. It has been an absolute game changer in terms of measuring, metrics and reporting.

However – when creating memorable, award-winning, and yes, profitable experiences – we have to rely on something way stronger – emotions (coupled with data, of course).

Knowing what every molecule in someone’s finger is composed of will not tell you if they are going to tap ‘buy’. But if the consumer is visibly emotional, talking about how great the experience they went through was, is a pretty good indicator that they will tap ‘buy’.

Of course – we never know with full certainty what a customer will or will not do. That’s part of the challenge. We hypothesise that focusing on an emotional journey, rather than a purely fact-driven one, will get you closer to the outcome you want.

At Imagination, we are big on creating the future. We aim to reinvent ourselves and keep our thinking fresh and cutting-edge. This comes with a duty to recognise when something is useful and when it’s not. We see audience segmentation as a tremendously important tool in our wheelhouse – when wielded properly.

And that comes with the recognition that maybe your grandma is not only a grandma, but a gamer, and a UFC fanatic, and a fashionista with a flair for dark academia, and a big, exciting et cetera that makes her, and every single one of us, the complicated beings we tirelessly aim to surprise and delight.

By Junior González, Senior Strategist for Imagination, Middle East