A new age of media analysis

Classifying consumers by age is an outdated marketing tool. The new ‘life stage’ model offers more accurate media consumption data.

The changing demographic structure of the UK population, coupled with shifting lifestyle patterns and attitudes, makes it increasing difficult to classify consumers by age.

The traditional lifestyle model is outdated. Second or third marriages are not uncommon. Second families, new careers, adult education and early retirement are now common changes in circumstance that occur at various stages in people’s lives and have little relation to age.

Working with market research company BMRB, the Newspaper Society has developed a “life stage” classification system that accounts for the different stages in life in people’s lives to overcome some of the problems associated with pigeonholing consumers into specific age bands. The system uses an index to compare the behaviour of certain groups of people against the national average – represented by 100.

The life stage descriptors the society has developed include: live with parents; left parents’ home and live alone or in shared accommodation; live with partner only, no children, children in household, majority pre-school age; children in household, majority school age; children in household, majority beyond school age; children have all left home, live with partner or alone.

The descriptors were included in a telephone re-contact study of 5,000 respondents to the Target Group Index (TGI) 98 survey. The results were then merged with the main TGI database to analyse lifestyle, media consumption and other purchasing patterns by life stage.

The results show the first three pre-family stages account for nearly 30 per cent of the British population. People with children at home (the next three stages) make up 42 per cent, with the final group (people with children who have left home) accounting for about 29 per cent.

This new life stage classification system was tested against age and social grade. The results suggest life stage can discriminate effectively, and that standard demographics are not always the most appropriate classification tool for marketing. For example, life stage analysis shows Mothercare shoppers are four times more likely to have pre-school age children than the national average, while analysis by age reveals much lower index levels.

But the extensive media choice available and changes in the use of leisure time mean it is becoming more difficult to select the appropriate medium to deliver marketing messages using standard demographics. Different types of media are consumed in different ways as people move between life stages.

The research shows the index for GMTV peak viewing among those with pre-school and school age children in their household (index of 159) as expected.

Heavy Channel 4 viewers have a high index – 165 – among those who live with their parents, but this popularity does not carry through to those who live with their partner only, with the index dropping to 94. Heavy ITV viewing has its highest index figures at two extreme life stages: those who live with their parents and those whose children have left home.

The consumption of commercial and BBC radio mirror each other across the life stages. People who live with their parents and those with pre-school and school children in the household are more likely to be heavy commercial radio listeners and listen to the car radio.

Internet access is high among people who are still living with their parents. This increases further when there are school-age children in the household.

Analysis of regional newspaper readership by life stage shows occasional readership declines dramatically in later life stages. But, with the increased availability of leisure time and higher levels of brand loyalty, regular readership increases.

Regular readers tend to purchase and read their paper for local news and prefer consistent content, while less frequent readers primarily buy for day-specific content, such as job advertisements on a Thursday or property ads on a Friday. But most less-frequent readers fall into the pre-school age life stage categories – in other words, a younger audience.

Almost six out of ten evening newspaper readers can be classified as “occasional” or “quite often” readers. Among this readership, more than half fall into the pre-family categories.

To some extent, this challenges the traditional view that the medium is dominated by ageing “greys”. It gives the regional press good reason to target a diverse mix of advertisers, including those traditionally linked to younger people who use the regional press on days of high casual purchase, for example, when job ads appear.

Segmenting markets by life stage is a simple concept that could help overcome some of the problems associated with pigeonholing consumers into specific age bands.

Life stage analysis can help define patterns of behaviour and consumption, which in turn can help direct advertisers in terms of design, message and media mix.

The use of life-stage information to target consumers has significant implications for advertising, planning, newspaper sales, targeted promotions and the development of strong newspaper brands. Life stage analysis can be used to help increase reader interest and boost newspaper sales.

Factfile is edited by Julia Day. Newspaper Society research manager Mike Jeannes contributed

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