Ignoring the Data: Marketers' Mindless Pursuit of Lifetime Value

January 29, 2013

Spend five minutes in a consumer marketing meeting and you are liable to hear about the coveted 18-to-49 year old demographic. "Marketers ignore data that shows the over-50 segment dominates spending, instead focusing on the 18 to 49 segment out of habit."

In a recent article posted on MarkLives.com,The Invincible Blindness of Advertisers,”ad executive Bob Hoffman writes that marketers and advertisers are putting themselves at a serious disadvantage by focusing on younger demographics. Because the younger group is the more aggressive when it comes to using new technologies, such as social media and smart devices, which are in the hands of the vast majority of marketers and advertisers, it is assumed that 18-to-49-year-olds are more likely to buy everything.

But consider this: according to Hoffman, baby boomers aged 50 to 65 “control over 75% of the nation’s wealth. They account for 50% of all consumer spending. They buy 62% of all new cars. They dominate 94% of all CPG categories.” Furthermore, this demographic is targeted to grow 48% between now and 2030. Despite this, only 5% of advertising targets them. The reason? Marketers and advertisers are overwhelmingly younger than 50 years old and make assumptions based on concepts like lifetime value:  if you get a customer early in their consumer life, you’ve got them forever. Does this mean lifetime value has no value? Of course not. But nonetheless it doesn’t justify ignoring what the data is telling you, even if it flies in the face of your assumptions.

It’s not wrong to build social applications and count “likes.” Social and mobile will play an increasing role in marketing research and outreach. But that is only one small part of the picture, and it shows the blindness that can occur when only a certain kind of data is collected. Marketers need to let the data – all the data, from Nielsen boxes to the census to Tweet feeds – tell them how it is, and who they should really be targeting.