How to Sell More by Understanding These 4 Key Life Stages

May 1, 2015

The Business Journal | May 1, 2015 – Marketers around the world have been challenged in recent years with change and transformation. The way we buy, consume and connect continues to evolve at an accelerated pace. Not only do we need to adjust to it, but we also need to think ahead to be able to capture the attention and loyalty of consumers.

For example, food retailing today is an industry at a crossroads. In this increasingly fragmented world, the pace of transformation has been slow, but needs to change quickly in order to compete competitively for the long haul.

Daymon Worldwide’s recent report “Retailing to Today’s Life Stage Diversity” flipped the traditional demographic model of segmenting consumers by showcasing how key life stages can be leveraged to more effectively capture consumer loyalty.

The report noted, “Life stage affects the fundamentals of how shoppers eat, how they cook, and how they shop for food and beverage, offering powerful opportunities for retailers ready to address them.”

New landscape

Too many retailers cling to outdated assumptions about their core shoppers and the eating and cooking behaviors actually taking place, which still creep into merchandising, branding and shopper marketing strategies.

For example, in 1960, roughly 48 percent of American households were families with young kids at home. Moms were in charge and dominated the profit pools of virtually every grocery store in America as they stocked products and ingredients to help them prepare large family dinners. Grocers in this era could easily afford to ignore the specialized needs of non-family households, such as people living alone and empty nesters.

In 2014, however, the ecosystem of households within your average grocery chain’s trading area has completely changed, as only 28 percent of American households are a nuclear family with kids under 18 living at home, and the percentage of single households has more than doubled (from 13 percent in 1960 to 28 percent today).

Smart retailers are now looking at the needs of non-family households for inspiration on how to adjust merchandising and marketing to meet specific consumer needs. Unfortunately, they often do this by focusing too narrowly on a single demographic, such as childless millennials, to the exclusion of other household types.

The key to understanding the new diversity of households is the phenomenon of life stage. We use four different key life stages when working in retail strategies to help us better determine how to reach them with marketing programs and tools.

1. Young singles
Being a young single is the first adult life stage we all experience and, increasingly, it is a post-collegiate one that often occurs in an urban context. Social networks form and morph primarily around the quest for answers to these questions like “who am I?” and “what do I want to contribute to the world?” although adults in this life stage rarely admit this. The cultural focus of this life stage is identity formation.

2. Young families
Unlike in prior eras, when children were more plentiful within each home, young families today obsess over the development of their kids and are super-involved in their upbringing. Parenting has become a second career. The primary focus of this life stage is almost always one thing: the children.

3. The empty nest
The aging of the family unit leads inevitably into this third major life stage. This time is often when women in particular rediscover who they are beyond the caregiver role that has dominated much of their lives. This exploration is based on a desire for better self-awareness of values and skills and a more selective, less conformist, approach to socialization. The focus of this life stage is achieving greater self awareness and personal development.

4. Older singles
With the ever-increasing delay of childbirth and marriage, as well as our increased longevity due to healthier eating, better medical care and the drastic reduction of smoking, today’s average older single is a much more relevant target, often living well into their 80s and 90s. The focus of this life stage is self, grandchildren and maintaining carefully filtered social connections.

Modern forms of shopper marketing now allow retailers to niche market even at the neighborhood level. So, even a minority life stage in one’s trading area is an opportunity to tailor communications, and offers to capture new consumers and build a long-term relationship.

My personal advice to retailers and manufacturers that fight a daily battle to differentiate their brands is to truly invest the time and money to understand the intricate needs and life stage demands of your target consumer. By capturing all possible data points, you can intuitively guide their final purchase decisions.

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