retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

I know it’s a huge contradiction to write this, but in general I hate generalities. Far too often they fool us into thinking the absolute wrong thing about groups of people, which for many marketers leads to untold problem.

Which is why I’m at odds with Kevin this week. Like a number of you, I disagreed with what I called his cranky comment about 55-year-olds getting a “senior” discount at A&P. Now I know Kevin really well and despite our many opinions in common, we have many other areas where we differ like crazy. And I think there is something instructive in that and our feelings on being seniors.

Neither of us likes to be called old. It really displeases me that surveys now lump me in the “55-64 age group” because I simply don’t feel that old. Yet, I couldn’t wait to get my senior discount at IHOP of all places, one week after my 55th birthday. I’m not even sure I wanted pancakes. I wanted to see if I would get proofed because of my youthful appearance. Sadly I didn’t.

Here’s the amazing part. Although Kevin and I never met until our mid-30s our backgrounds are stunningly similar. We were born in the same city (a year apart and I’m younger), moved to the same suburb and each had a parent who worked for the local school district. It gets worse. We were employed by the same newspaper company and moved on in short order to trade publications covering supermarkets. You would think we’d share similar behaviors on most things.

But we don’t. And when it comes to our status as “seniors,” he’s offended and I’m flashing my AARP card. In other words, it’s impossible to figure anyone out.

That’s where it gets so challenging for marketers. We’ve come to learn that Hispanics, for example, are anything but monolithic. Not only do Hispanics hail from an incredible range of countries, they also behave in very different ways depending on how acculturated they have become. If you read the demographic wrong, you can’t sell a thing.

The same goes for Baby Boomers. My oldest sister-in-law recently retired in Florida, while my youngest sister helps her 11-year-old with his homework. Both are Boomers but obviously have little in common beyond being related to me. And frankly, it doesn’t stop with Boomers. My 80-year-old mother frequently always refers to the date far in the future when she will be “old.” Don’t go lumping her in the wrong group or she gets offended.

The challenge for marketers is finding the way to appeal to these heterogeneous groups of shoppers and shopper emotions. I love the suggestions from MNB readers about calling us things like “experienced” shoppers, but honestly, who’s kidding whom. The name doesn’t matter if the intent is clear.

The challenge is figuring how to market to people who look, think, act and even get offended differently all the time even though they are almost exactly the same. Worse yet, we have to figure out how to market to people who switch from bargain hunting to extravagance in a matter of minutes. And that’s why we need to know our customers better than ever at a time that’s more complex than ever.

It’s never simple is it?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View:
(This is fun...)

I disagree with Michael in two fundamental ways, though I do agree with him that marketing to any group is a complex challenge, because it is dangerous to paint with a broad brush. That actually was sort of my original point - I was just crankier about it.

One, I think the name does matter, regardless of whether the intent is clear. (And I’m surprised that he would write that sentence, considering his enthusiasm for the chapter in our book about Hoosiers, the lesson of which is “words matter.”

Two, I haven’t been to an IHOP in 20 years. And I’m not going to one, not ever, even if they offer to sell me pancakes for nothing.