Issue 01 / The Fluid Generation

Evolving Audience Segmentation

Defining Audiences with Fluid Identities

People are getting more fluid. And the way we measure them seems more rigid than ever.

Marketers build realities to reach people.

But the frameworks we use to define and reach identities and audiences are a relic of an older way of seeing the world.

We’re trained to group people into massive segments based on demographic data: race, gender, age, education, income. Or we might identify and name a consumer archetype we’re trying to reach.

We talk about made-up “buckets” or “users” or “shoppers,” not people.

Marketers build realities to reach people.

This framework is built on trait theory, which says that human behavior is driven by mostly permanent aspects of our identity.

The choices we make, it says, are driven by our physical, demographic or emotional traits. In the long run, our choices will stay generally consistent within the lanes of these labels.

This theory makes it way easier for marketers to understand and reach people. If you live like this, you’ll probably buy that. Simply pick a lane and tightly target it, and you’ll see results.

But our traits aren’t the only things influencing our actions. You’re not only driven by your emotional state, but your context.

This is called situationism.

When we’re driven by emotions like desire or stress, our personalities can be overruled. The interruptions of the world drive what we do — and how we buy.

Marketers define the emotional benefits of their brands, then inject that state of mind into a person’s decision-making.

When we’re driven by emotions like desire or stress, our personalities can be overruled. The interruptions of the world drive what we do — and how we buy.

But we believe the modern nature of identity is defined somewhere in the middle.

Most people build their place in the world through an interactionist mindset. We take our traits, our experiences, our choices — and, crucially, our interactions with others — to negotiate our identity.

And it’s rarely as permanent as marketers believe.

Identity isn't a one-word label anymore. It’s a work-in-progress.

Today, we’re much less likely to adhere to traditional roles and expectations defined by our demographic details.

Identity isn’t a one-word label anymore. It’s a work-in-progress. We celebrate, blend and redefine the components that make us us. We’re not part-this, part-that — we’re this-and.

And what rises to the surface is always in a state of change.

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom describes identity as a group of layers, which are built and rearranged by our interactions.

Our core self is our experiences and lived history.

Our narrative self is how we interpret the past, present and future attributes of our lives.

Our social identity is built by the personas and roles we adopt. Most people have a rich structure of social identities.

A fascinating new addition is our digital identity, which includes our biometrics, our data, our legal statuses and our online personas. And the relationship between our digital and IRL identities may be totally incongruent.

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom describes identity as a group of layers, which are built and rearranged by our interactions.

We can (and do) choose to shift our identities, but they’re also sensitive to our daily lives.

We’re social creatures, and our identities are attuned to other people. When we interact, an exchange of energy takes place — and the attributes of our personality evolve.

Some people inspire us to learn, understand and empathize. Others we may judge, critique or avoid. As we live more of these interactions, our identities get more complex.

Our ever-increasing access to information and interactions helps us create these connections faster and more meaningfully.

And that only accelerates the process of unlearning a traditional identity. We increasingly adopt and incorporate elements of culture from around the world. A global identity of individuals is taking form, formed by the common languages of food, fashion, music and culture.

If the way identity is being formed is rapidly evolving — and the way we understand one another is as well — why haven’t businesses caught up in order to better serve us?

All these changes mean the traditional business definitions of audiences and segments have largely become less effective. Today’s best brands understand that their audiences are defined in a nimble, fluid space — not by inflexible, established identities.

Now, people gravitate toward expressions, convictions and experiences that resonate with them — both from other people and from the brands they buy.

So, the best brands define the convictions that motivate them. They build ways of seeing the world that express something fundamental about their brands — and then attract people who share that vision. The audience becomes a personal expression, not a type of person.

And marketers ask questions about identity, culture symbols and experience that connect people to inform business opportunity. The result is a more compelling, human and relatable universe of brand identity.

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