If you think you know your market inside out, it’s time to think again

Some businesses might not know their customers as well as they thought, according to figures from eBay out this week. 

Lucy Handley

For example, 25 per cent more eBay searches for mountain bikes were by women aged over 60 than by people aged 18 to 29, for the five months to May 2013. Older men are also seeking out activity equipment, with 60- to 64-year-old men outsearching their younger (25- to 29-year-old) counterparts by 4 per cent when looking for ski accessories. The over-60s are also getting into the deep – outsearching 18- to 24-year-olds by 19 per cent for scuba gear.

Meanwhile, the recently-formed Mature Marketing Association is calling for brands to realise the potential of the older market and stop blindly targeting 18- to 34-year-olds. There are 21 million people in this country aged over 50, it points out, in a market valued at over £300bn a year. MMA’s members include those you might expect, such as AXA PPP Healthcare and investment adviser Charles Stanley, but there’s also some surprises – Channel 4, for example, which later this year is running a Mary Portas-fronted TV show, ‘Mary’s Jobs for Life’, to help get the over-65s into work.

While an ageing population is a massive opportunity for brands, eBay’s research should encourage marketers to think more broadly about their target audiences, as well as how they research them. Looking at behaviour online is one way to see what an audience is actually doing – one downside of market research in the traditional sense is that it can provide results showing what people say they do, rather than what they actually do.

Strategy people call this ‘observed behaviour’ – and it gets away from traditional demographic breakdowns. As eBay’s Phong Nguyen says: “To target based only on demographic assumptions is to miss out on the opportunity that observed shopper behaviours represent – to engage with people’s passions when they are most apparent.”

It may be that the man searching for skiing equipment is looking for a present for his daughter, or the mountain-bike buyer looking on behalf of a nephew but the fact remains that ‘older’ people aren’t catered for all that well by brands.

Our Modern Marketing Manifesto calls for marketers to use data and turn it into insight that then informs segmentation. This is something that will be explored at Crunch, part of the Festival of Marketing powered by Marketing Week, Econsultancy, Design Week and Creative Review this October.

Marketers must not ignore the people they think won’t buy from them.