Empty nester syndrome hits home

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I have recently completed a tumultuous shift to a new demographic category. But will I become a new style of consumer, in a whole new marketing minefield?

Does being an empty nester mean I need to be wrapped in cotton wool and offered shoulders of emotional support, or tied down to stop me over-celebrating?

Understanding your target audience is one of the greatest challenges for a marketer, but our audiences aren’t robots with distinct programming, pre-set to react and behave in ways that are 100 percent predictable.

We’re human. We live our lives constantly running the gauntlet of the full gamut of emotions that inject colour into how we make decisions. We are at the mercy of our own circumstances and of those close to us, let alone those influences beyond our direct control.

As our daughter hugged us goodbye in the windy Wellington doorway of her halls of residence, did my husband and I suddenly switch over to a new category in the big global database in the sky? Did the metaphorical icon beside our names change from middle-aged parents of a teenager to a pair of wizened stooping geriatrics?

Will we mysteriously now see more ads for retirement savings funds, night classes in pottery and special offers on gardening products? Will marketers assume we’ll be looking for non-challenging distractions now we are bereft of dependants at home to make our sad diminishing lives complete?

Are we destined to a life of watching Coro and Midsomer Murders, buying comfortable shoes and sleeping in an adjustable bed?

It will take a little while for the supermarkets to realise we buy less of her favourite foods and target their messages about the things we like instead. Sales of Up N Go and popcorn in the northern suburbs are about to plummet but seafood sales will flourish.

How confusing it must be for marketers targeting people in our situation. They would be wrong to assume that the empty nest phase of our journey as customers is purely the first step to retirement. We haven’t suddenly started hurtling towards old age and the self-contained unit strategically chosen for its handy location between the communal dining room and the nurse’s station.

What if, instead of beginning to wither on the vine, we plan to flourish with our new opportunities, just as The Student will be making the most of hers? Instead of pining, perhaps we will be celebrating our rediscovered freedom with weekends away, impromptu nights out, weekly Sunday brunches and couples’ Zumba?  (Oh, what an image.)

The marketers don’t know our personal attitude to finances as we enter this new phase either.  Some parents may find themselves with a glittering pot of ‘spare’ money at their disposal as they insist their child dives into world of total financial independence, while others continue to offer support, to varying degrees.

There may be brands that look at people like us now and think we’re going to be splashing out on long-overdue renovations, vehicle upgrades, more frequent and swankier meals out…or Botox. Well, if you think that’s the case, owners of luxury brands and purveyors of the nice-to-haves, you’ll be wasting your time on me.

There are very few life stage milestones that elicit a dramatic change in behaviours, unless they involve a sudden cash injection, when you might well go a bit bonkers, of course. And too many other factors influence the choices we make on our customer journeys for the marketers to predict our patterns totally accurately.

But it’s fair and natural to treat us mere humans as creatures of habit, even if, through the generations, habits evolve and change. Life stages offer marketers a typical set of on-ramps and off-ramps for their customers’ relationship with their brand. Not everyone will behave the same, but we can rely on generalised element of predictability to inform our marketing planning.

Right now, it’s predictable that I’ll be looking for excuses to connect with The Student and for things to do to keep me from fixating on the change we’re all going through.

Particularly for the next few months, I’ll probably ricochet from one consumer mindset to the next with an alarming sense of confusion. I might get a cat. Take up a new hobby. Buy a treadmill. Get a tattoo? But I might also be just the same as I ever was, empty nest or not.

Either way, imagine the pending chaos of my inbox, my social media feed and the online ads I’ll get bombarded with and wish me luck!

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz