Don’t Target by Demographics – Why Mindsets are a More Meaningful Way to Connect

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By Jo Allison, Head of Content at leading behavioural insights practice, Canvas8

Human behaviour is influenced by four factors that come together to shape what we will and won’t do and how we then do it. The first is instincts — our human reflexes, how we’re wired. The second is values — our aspirations, our beliefs, our emotional and reasoned motivations. Thirdly, they are both mediated by our capabilities — what are we actually able to do? And fourth and finally the specific cultures we inhabit.

Change in behaviour occurs as a response to trigger events. The pandemic changed the way we work,  the way we shop, the way we eat, not to mention the impact of mass digitisation.

These huge shifts in behaviour are a big challenge for brands and marketers. At a time of ongoing uncertainty, how do you truly understand a customer who has reassessed their priorities, their beliefs, and their idea of community, family and career?

We know that segmenting via generation isn’t always effective or reliable. For instance, we presume TikTok is the platform for meme-loving Gen Z, yet the #momsoftiktok hashtag has over 44 billion views.

We hear a lot about Gen Z being a generation of eco-warriors, yet their fast fashion appetites have boosted the revenues of the likes of Shein to $10billion in 2020.

And the same goes for our perception that YouTubers are mostly youths — but look at the spike in Boomer ‘creators’ on YouTube.  Similarly, looking at data alone can only demonstrate how an audience is behaving, but it won’t tell you the ‘why’.

At Canvas8 we’ve been tracking human behaviour since 2009. We do this by analysing data sets, observing generational shifts, speaking to experts and keeping connected to culture and over the past year we have identified three emerging new mindsets:

  • The Cultural Steward, who wants to preserve local culture against the backdrop of hyper-globalisation;
  • The Systems Sceptic, who is looking for new and progressive ways to live, and
  • The Contrarian, who is living for today, and determined not to take life — or themselves — too seriously.

These mindsets are made up of a set of beliefs that shape how people make sense of the world and it influences how they behave in any given situation.

Below are 5 recommendations as to how marketing and communication teams could adapt their approaches to connect and influence at a ‘mindset’ level, rather than pinning ads or strategies on a generation or an outdated demographic.

1. Live and Breathe Their Community

Becoming involved in a community at a grass-roots and non-performative level (or appearing on the platforms a group inhabits such as Patreon or Substack)  — can provide nuanced insights into how a group communicates and what makes them tick.

Brands are increasingly trying to become trusted advisors in spaces adjacent to their category — for example, Nike and Athleta offer hubs with video content and community work.

Solange’s Community Library and Dua Lipa’s Service95 connect people’s love for an artist to other cultural areas — from food to political podcasts, giving like-minded people a space to connect over shared loves.

2. Speak the Language

Speaking and communicating in a tone of voice that resonates and feels familiar means different things to different groups.

Instagram content creators like Erin Taylor and Julia Hava use their platforms to share honest posts referencing their anxiety and familial dysfunction — resonating with the 42% of social media users who feel less pressure to portray their lives unrealistically since the pandemic.

Netflix employs an internet-savvy, meme-literate, and down-to-earth persona to promote new programming and similarly when Twitter’s account pivoted to a more conversational tone, it resulted in 14 times as many replies to its tweets.

3. Value What They Value

People are increasingly values-driven and 58% of Americans consider themselves conscious consumers. Understanding what matters to a group — be it sustainability or female equality for example — and then ensuring that your brand aligns to the same concerns and addresses issues in a real way can be powerful.

For example, in early 2021 e-commerce fashion retailer, Zalando launched a search function that lets people browse items according to the causes they care about, while shopping app Miiriya makes it easy for people to buy from Black businesses.

4. Show Understanding of Cultural Nuance

If the pandemic taught people anything, it was the value of their immediate surroundings and the individuals and culture that make up a community. Listening to different perspectives is key to understanding regional nuances and building partnerships with cultural influencers.

As is a deep understanding of a community’s values and codes to avoid ‘culture-washing’. Aldi’s retail store in China for instance is markedly different from its stores in Europe, emulating layouts of small retailers rather than the usual warehouse-feel.

While in the beauty sector, Kulfi Beauty celebrates South Asian culture by taking inspiration from cultural concepts such as the kajal (in South Asian cultures women smear dark-coloured kajal around the eyes to ward off the evil eye).

5. Help Fulfill their Desires

Passion points are a hugely important part of identity, something which the pandemic has only highlighted further. Be it meditation or golf, around 60% of Americans said they took up a new hobby in the pandemic.

By establishing spaces for creativity, businesses can help employees find a new sense of inspiration for their work. From Microsoft’s  The Garage, offering employees free use of 3D printers, laser cutters and Raspberry Pis to online, niche platforms and networks such as PlantLife or ‘digital gardens’, giving people the chance to cultivate their interests away from the judgemental lens of social media, presents an opportunity for brands to connect with people in more meaningful ways.