Forget demographics – marketers need to be concentrating on shopper mindsets, says Chris Carter, of smp. All too often, how marketers seek to understand shoppers becomes a game of Guess Who. Match the shopper to a certain set of characteristics and Bob’s your uncle.

Beyond shopper demographics: moving from ‘who’ to ‘why’


Forget demographics – marketers need to be concentrating on shopper mindsets, says Chris Carter, of smp

All too often, how marketers seek to understand shoppers becomes a game of Guess Who. Match the shopper to a certain set of characteristics and Bob’s your uncle.

But we now live in a world where boundaries of country, race, age and gender are disappearing fast. Take the emergence of genderless fashion championed by the likes of Selfridges’ Agender or Zara’s Ungendered. US retail giant Target has even introduced a gender-neutral approach to communicating children’s products.

Technology is also fragmenting audiences and disrupting shopping habits. Therefore demographics, which can treat consumers like cardboard cut-outs, have become outdated. So, what comes next?

To move beyond demographics and better understand the modern shopper, marketers need to stop guessing ‘who’ and start getting to the bottom of ‘why’.

Driven by this realisation, we conducted a study to explore the motivations and values of shoppers, and the influence they have on shopping behaviour. This involved speaking to industry experts and 1,000 shoppers across different sectors, as well as sifting through a vast library of research articles.

Towards a new framework

All this preliminary research led to one conclusion: the marketing industry needs a new framework for understanding shoppers today.

Victor Schwab’s 40 emotional drivers that inform people’s decisions helped categorise our preliminary findings, but they were still too broad and required scientific validation. Cross-referencing them with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs allowed us to refine things further.

What we discovered is there are seven key mindsets that can define how people shop today much better than the old system of demographics. They are: conscious, creative, fulfilled, influential, knowledgeable, secure and sociable.

These seven mindsets transcend age, gender and income divides. A 19-year-old restaurant worker is just as likely to be creative as a 66-year-old barrister. They also aren’t static, instead fluxing in response to personal life experiences like home ownership, having children and divorce.

Mindsets change according to mission

What’s particularly interesting is that mindsets even change depending on what people are shopping for, meaning marketers can exactly tailor and optimise their activity, like media channels, messaging and promotions, when people hit the shops.

Groceries, for example, are considered life’s essentials. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that the secure mindset – the drive to safety, security and value – is most prominent when people are shopping for groceries. Post-recession, the secure mindset is growing to be an ever more relevant driver, as likely to motivate people on higher wages as it is for lower earners, which is why the likes of Aldi and Lidl are experiencing such a boom.

Personal care shoppers are also most likely to have the secure mindset, though being knowledgeable and conscious are also important to them. In fact, personal care is the only sector of our survey (which also explores alcohol and tech) where the conscious mindset – closely linked with ethical shopping and the desire to be a ‘good person’ – is among the most dominant. With natural products taking an ever-larger chunk of the personal care market, it’s likely the conscious mindset is linked with growing shopper mistrust of synthetic and chemical products. President Obama’s recent ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetic products is a great example of this.

Online breaks down traditional demographic barriers

We know that as circumstances or shopping intentions change, mindsets shift, which is also true of the environment people are shopping in. Life online has broken down the barriers between people, whether social, cultural or geographical. The external signifiers that underpin marketing segmentation have less weight than they once did. Today, a 17-year-old from Kentucky has access to the same media and information as a 72-year-old in Kensington. In the future, the experiences and media consumption habits that traditionally define demographics will all but disappear.

Naturally, this has revolutionised the way people shop. It no longer starts at the shop door and ends at the checkout. It’s a process that can happen anytime, anywhere.

Mindsets offer a flexible and holistic framework on which to build all marketing activity across every stage of the shopper journey. While marketers might balk at the decline of demographics, unsure of where to go next, being mindful of the seven mindsets will ensure they are equipped with the right tools to understand shoppers, improve targeting and maximise sales.

Chris Carter is Managing Director of shopper marketing agency smp. smp clients include Andrex, BLACK+DECKER, Kimberly-Clark and SanDisk.




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