Beyond millennials: Traditional demographics don’t work
 
Beyond millennials: Traditional demographics don’t work
05 APRIL 2016 7:24 AM

The hotel industry has been quick to shift marketing and design to the millennial guest, but as consumers across generations have changed what they want in a hotel stay, the lines between traditional demographics are blurring.

Are there any new hotel brands not focused on millennials?

For decades hotel companies have used traditional demographics to develop brands, products and marketing messages. And lately it’s been all about millennials, as evidenced by the number of new hotel brands targeting them such as Moxy, Vib, Glo and Tru—can Blä be far behind?

While this method of strategic market planning and product development has long dominated, today’s consumers are breaking free from expected demographic boundaries, making traditional profiling much less relevant.

They are crafting their own identities more freely than ever, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, sexual preference, household makeup, or where they choose to live. As a result, needs and wants are no longer defined by traditional demographics, and their buying patterns are becoming more eclectic. I know boomers—and perhaps you do, too—who act like millennials and millennials who act like boomers. In short, the differences in desires, motivations and purchase patterns between traditional demographic segments are blurring.

Bottom line, this is a time of unprecedented social, cultural and economic mobility, which has created a truly complex marketing environment.

The major driver of this trend continues to be technology, as the connected world has given all of us free and total access to ideas, concepts, products and services from around the globe, and as a result, our beliefs and interests have become more diverse.

Plus we’re living longer, healthier lives, and have abundantly more free time and energy than any other period in history—and if we can’t actually be younger, we strive to look, dress, and act younger.

Yes, younger consumers remain the earliest adopters of new products and services as they are more open to experimentation and have far fewer responsibilities. But now any revolutionary–or simply compelling–innovations are rapidly adopted by a cross section of demographics. Successful products and services today will perform and sell well beyond the range of their initial demographic targets.

A great example is CitizenM Hotels. The company defines its target market as international travelers who cross continents the way others cross streets. Anyone who sees themselves as a mobile citizen of the world—independent thinkers, who respect different cultures, and are young at heart. Walk into any CitizenM hotel—whether in London, Paris or New York—and you will see all manner of “demographic profiles” adopting the brand as their own. 

This is why I find the rise of generational marketing in the hospitality industry–applying the same broad marketing strategies to a single generation—boomers, Gen Xers, millennials–outdated and ineffective, not to mention, frustrating. Hoteliers who continue to navigate using old demographic maps—with the borders defined by age, ethnicity, income, education, sexual preference, household makeup, or geography—will be unprepared for the direction, scale and speed of change.

Faced with this more complex environment, hoteliers have held on to defunct definitions which are no longer relevant, painting generations with the same broad behavioral brush. This is much easier than accepting and dealing with the fact that we have entered an age of post-demographic consumerism.

Why is this?

Because integrating psychographic market data into the traditional demographic segments requires a great deal of sophistication. It is much simpler, faster and less expensive to collect and analyze dry data—the hard facts like age and gender—than it is to identify psychographic data which forms the individual personality of a traveling consumer—attitudes, values, opinions, interests, habits, and/or general lifestyles.

This leads to the big question: If traditional demographic profiling alone is no longer relevant, how should hoteliers profile traveling consumers?

My advice is to overlay traditional demographics, with behavioral data in order to really understand—and clearly see—the whole picture.

While traditional demographics still play into consumer segmentation, it’s much more useful to get a deeper understanding of why consumers are considering traveling to your hotel or resort. Are they seeking an escape or adventure, emotional self-renewal, traveling for business, wanting to reconnect with family, looking for romance, seeking a new cultural experience, or any one of a hundred different reasons? It’s not about how much they make, or how old they are. It’s about motivations, needs, wants and lifestyles.

Rather than marketing to a narrowly defined demographic, hoteliers must embrace the new post-demographic landscape, and position their brands, products, services and marketing messages in a way that allows traveling consumers to express their individuality—not grouped in a pre-determined herd of sameness.

At best, pigeon-holing consumers with traditional demographics paints only a portion of the picture. It’s a far-too-simple way of viewing the world. As members of the industry, it’s high time we learn how to properly collect, analyze and group psychographic data. Combined with demographic data, it will provide a more holistic perspective into our industry and the vertical markets we wish to attract.

Whether you’re a boomer, Gen-Xer or millennial, I would be interested to hear your perspective on the topic. What are you and your organization doing in the way of consumer profiling? Please feel free to share your opinions, stories, ask questions, or comment here.

John Fareed, principal of John Fareed Hospitality Consulting LLC, is an internationally recognized authority in the field of hospitality marketing. He holds a Master of Science degree in Hospitality Management from the Dublin Institute of Technology's School of Hospitality Management and Tourism in Dublin, Ireland—where he is currently pursuing a PhD—as well as professional designations from the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Fareed’s consulting clients include Fortune 500 companies, brands, lenders, developers, REIT’s, management companies, investors, owners, attorneys, and insurers. To learn more visit www.johnfareed.com or contact Fareed directly at jf@johnfareed.com.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that might be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

2 Comments

  • Doug Kennedy April 6, 2016 7:41 PM Reply

    Another great article John! You are so right that "pigeon-holing consumers with traditional demographics paints only a portion of the picture." As I often say in my training workshops, there's a "story to be discovered" behind every guest experience. The new brand concepts are indeed narrow-minded to focus mostly on the so-called "Millennials," which are as diversified as all the other so called consumer "generations" before them.

    You were spot on in saying that today's guests "...are crafting their own identities more freely than ever, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, sexual preference, household makeup, or where they choose to live." Marketing needs to focus on the situations, stories and circumstances around which today's travelers make decisions. As a father of two teenagers, I might sometimes buy travel like the stereo typical "baby boomer" which I am. (Remember- baby boomers were born well into the 1960's!) Yet when my Gen-Xer wife and I went away to South Beach Miami for a milestone birthday recently, we were thinking and behaving much more like Millennials.

    I definitely agree when you said "As members of the industry, it’s high time we learn how to properly collect, analyze and group psychographic data." Kudos to you as one of the few visionaries who are leading us in this direction.

  • Max Starkov - HeBS Digital April 27, 2016 10:36 AM Reply

    Great article - I completely share the view that simplifying and stratifying consumer demographics is a 1990s approach to marketing. It is the "Millennial State of Mind" that matters, not the actual age group. I have two Millennial generation daughters, yet I believe I am an earlier technology adopter than both of them. On then other hand let's look at the facts: Today Millennials generate far less hotel roomnights in the U.S. (<125 million), compared to Gen-X (200 million) or Baby Boomers (275 million). Projections are that Millennials will catrch up with Gen-X-ers after 2020, and with Baby Boomers well after 2030.

    So focusing on a particular age group alone does not make much sense.

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