When Age Is Not Enough

When I’m completing an online form and the inevitable age question arises, I search for the box that covers the early 30s. Each time I check that box, I chuckle to myself knowing some marketer somewhere will become giddy with excitement over this relatively useless piece of information. After all, my age may be a marker of possible behavior indicators, but there are more important questions marketers should be asking online thirty-somethings:

  • How long have you been online?

  • Do you have broadband?
  • How much do you spend online?
  • Do you use the Internet for entertainment?

Why? Because tenure, access, frequency, and usage are all that really matter.

Tenure

Tenure tells you whether the individual is a seasoned surfer or a newbie. If she’s have been online more than two years, chances are she is more comfortable buying online, is aware of more applications and services, has site affinities or preferences, and most likely uses the Internet several times per week.

The bottom line for marketers is this: If someone has been online more than two years, chances are he will buy from you not only because he has been online a while but also because he trusts your brand. Whether you’re selling videos, DVDs, or vacation packages, a person’s tenure online will be a better indicator than his age of the probability of his purchasing product from the site.

Access

Access speed tells you what kind of content a person may view. If she has high-speed access, she’s more likely to view streaming video or rich media content. She’s also more likely to download software such as viewers or other plug-ins. Knowing the answer to this question will also give you an indication of the value she places on the Internet.

Most important though, someone who has broadband usually increases his frequency of usage of particular services, applications, or sites with which he has a relationship.

The bottom line for marketers? If you’re trying to reach someone with high-speed access, go ahead and program that broadband content. She can view it; the question will be whether she wants to buy it and how much it will cost (which is a completely separate discussion).

Frequency

Time spent online will give you a good idea of how much time a person may be spending, or not spending, using other media, such as TV, radio, or magazines. You can also craft the question to ascertain whether the person goes online when he has leisure time. This is a powerful piece of information because it can shed light on how he perceives the Internet — as utility or entertainment.

The answer to this question can tell marketers whether the person can be reached with a cross-channel campaign. Marketers can also learn whether they should be building multichannel applications and services. If you are already thinking about it, ask survey respondents if they have PDAs or cell phones.

Usage

Which leads us to the final question: How does your target audience use the Internet — as a utilitarian medium or an entertainment one? Traditionally we think of entertainment as something that’s visual, such as television or video games. I would argue online, entertainment can take many forms. Some examples include creating personal content (sending digital pictures to family and friends), reading news and sports headlines, finishing the New York Times crossword puzzle, or playing parlor or multiplayer games. Regardless of the activity, by understanding a person’s usage, companies can tailor services and applications that are relevant.

The message for marketers here is while a person may not watch long-form video, she might play a game, catch a couple of minutes of streamed video, and probably watch a movie trailer or two. Better yet, give her a virtual tour of that new luxury liner; she may book a ticket.

The long and the short of it is this: I may be thirty-something, but I also have broadband, I spend 20-plus hours online a week, and I use the Internet for entertainment as well as utility. Once you know that much about your prospects, you can go to town.

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