How Does Your Consumer Audience Change?

The best media buyers and planners inherit much more of their knowledge from their predecessors than they harvest on their own. This is especially true of their acuity with audience profiles.

These marketers end up with an innate understanding of their company’s target market through a ceremonious daily sharing of information. They know not only who the target is and how she behaves online, but also what her pet eats for breakfast. Ask one of these buyers to paint you a verbal picture of his prime customer, and he’ll share enough details to fill a book.

Ask him to consider how his audience has changed in recent years, however, and he’s stumped. Somehow, the possibility of consumer evolution doesn’t usually factor into a confident marketer’s knowledge base.

But consumers do change, often in ways few would expect. That’s when marketers must give the boot to stereotypes and preconceived notions.

Consider the results of two recent consumer studies. They reveal the two demographic groups believed to be the most “transparent” actually conduct secret lives. Both revolve around online shopping.

Rural Online Shoppers Outnumber Their Urban Counterparts

According to “online competitive intelligence” company Hitwise, consumers in remote rural areas spend much more time shopping online than previously believed. Its study on Web shopping habits shows these users account for over 44 percent of traffic to all shopping sites.

It certainly makes sense these isolated souls look for easy alternatives to obtain necessary goods, especially around the holidays. And it comes as no surprise they favor sites with a brick-and-mortar local presence, especially those that sell outdoor sporting goods.

What is surprising is these traditional, conservative consumers now trust the Web enough to join the ranks of online shoppers. The same audience we believed would remain loyal offline shoppers forever now far outnumber urbanites, suburbanites, and small-city dwellers when it comes to generating e-commerce site traffic.

Men Browse More Than Women Online

A second study dashes preconceptions about male online shopping habits. Last week, AOL reported although women represent the majority of online shoppers (studies suggest they started taking the Internet lead somewhere back in 1999), men spend more time per month online than women do.

That’s not all. Men also research and browse online more often (31 times per month vs. 22 times per month for women); are likely to spend more on a single item ($1,751 vs. $787 for women); and will spend more time online during this year’s holiday season than women.

And yet, most advertisers still assume women are the overwhelming online leaders, especially when it comes to holiday shopping. Their bias is often clear in ads for products that appeal to both genders. The design, copy, and images associated with many email messages, for example, seem to favor the female consumer. Keep an eye on your inbox this holiday season. You’re sure to see what I mean.

Media buyers and planners must stay abreast of new developments in the online industry. How often does that dedication extend to understanding changes among their target consumers? It’s easy to assume the knowledge you gleaned from the head planner in your office is steadfast. Do your agency a favor: Research often, question everything, and keep an open mind.

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