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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The New Demographic: People Who Can't Keep Up

New Year's Resolution: 36/365
Photo by Sasha Wolff via Flickr

So yesterday I was on Evernote writing down a "work/life balance list." The list quickly got so long that I ran out of time to finish writing it. And I realized that not only is it difficult to keep up to the old standard, but that the bar keeps getting raised. For example:
  • Income - the median income in this country isn't remotely close to covering what we see on TV as the ideal lifestyle, and the bar keeps being raised. 
  • Education - your career-related skills constantly require updating, new certification, literacy with best practices, etc.
  • Professional advancement - educational degree; people skills; cultural savvy; collaboration skills; work/life balance; personal branding...it never stops evolving.
  • Life organization - from tracking the oil change on the car to home maintenance, it all has to be done, tracked and accounted for. Housecleaning - laundry. It has to get done!
  • Technology tools - no matter how fast or how much you learn, it's outdated within a year or two and so is your equipment.
  • Personal relationships - marriage or significant other; children; elderly family members - all need personal time, care, and attention.
  • Civic/community involvement - religion, volunteering, political involvement - people want and need to be part of the larger group; this is a time commitment that also factors in.
  • Hobbies, volunteering, personal pursuits - everyone needs some "downtime," and it is expected that you will have a hobby or two to talk about to make you "interesting"
  • Exercise and nutrition - with obesity rates so high, it's clear that not enough of us make time to eat right or to move enough.
What happens when the ordinary person is required to be almost superhuman in order to keep up? Stuff like this:
  • Comedian Chelsea Handler says, on her popular late-night talk show, that she "stares at the blank TV screen" in her home because she doesn't know how to operate the fancy TV, the fancy electronic system that turns on the lights, etc.
  • A workplace technology chasm between new recruits who operate and learn technology at light speed and who collaborate openly by default, vs. traditionalists who need time to train and who are more reserved about sharing information - meaning two totally different cultures operating in parallel
  • Mothers with their children in strollers, in the subway, begging for food while National Car Rental runs a TV commercial showing a young woman "power professional" who can "choose any car in the lot"
  • Young people who aspire to work in a Starbucks rather than start a brand or own a franchise, because adulthood is just too daunting and they believe that the employer will be minimally decent to them
  • Political class wars between the "I've Got Mine" (as Elizabeth Warren puts it) and the "Give Me Yours" (Republican vs. Democrat), because nobody can seem to figure out a solution in between where we can all live in peace.
From what I can see, marketers are choosing to focus very narrowly on one side of the spectrum vs. the other. What they should be doing is stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and seeing the group psychology of chasm society as giving birth to demographics, as follows:
  • People who can't keep up - the generally harried treadmill-runners
  • People living on the extreme - either very rich or very poor, technology-oriented vs. averse, etc.
  • People sensitive to the chasm between classes - particularly those who feel guilty about their relative privilege
In the age of YouTube, Facebook, Skype and other forms of instant global video chat, people are more than ever exposed to the totality of human experience. And since it is their mental state that determines what they buy, it's more important than ever to be sensitive to the reaction people have to what they are seeing. We ought to do this not by overly depending on quantitative metrics but by actually using the marketers' most sophisticated tool of all, the brain.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!