We all have learnt that great insight comes from uncovering the tensions experienced in the lives of our target audience. However, my strong belief is that there are certain life stages that lend themselves to insights making them a little easier. These are life stages for a period where painful adjustment is needed and one is slightly confused about one's identity and needs more emotional anchoring.
These are what one would call 'cusps' (like a cusp between two star signs) or that in-between age group that is neither here nor there. While terms may have been invented for these audiences, they do not really define their state of mind.
The transition from one age group to another can require one to make painful adjustments. Marketing folks can perhaps dig a little deeper for tensions that arise at these life stages.
11-13 - At the cusp of being a teen
For example, an age groups of 11 to the beginning of 13, the pre-teenage stage, one in which slowly, but surely, mama's pampering has reduced, but some of the childishness of the nine-year-old still persists. There is almost a wish to go back to the days when parents would offer that extra affection or pampering to satisfy one's childish whims and fancies.
What one gets to hear instead is, "You're grown up now. Stop behaving like a child!"
However, what makes this age group interesting is that at the same time, one aspires to grow up and be like the older kids who are free to go to late-night parties, movies or even go out alone with friends, without any restrictions. However, there is still an extra protectiveness from parents when it comes to letting their kids go completely. One is faced with statements like - 'you are not old enough to go out alone,' or 'wait a few years', etc.
It's like being at the threshold of a new life stage that is exciting, but not being able to experience it - neither a child nor a full-blown teenager. The confused identity at this stage is compounded due to the behaviour of parents and teachers who provide mixed and maybe even contradictory signals and opinions about what one is and what one is not.
It's also a cusp for a marketer as herein lies a wealth of opportunities that exist if one can exploit the tensions that prevail in such an age group.
What can brands do to possibly enable a smooth transition in these age groups? Can they enable these age groups to instantly slip into a teen-like persona when they need to or regress into a slightly kiddish persona or just empathise with their life stage and become their hero brand?
Or maybe the brand could provide tips on how they can max-out their opportunities by oscillating between childhood and being a teenager whenever they need to, depending on whether they need to please a parent or an individual they have a crush on.
Or maybe brands can help them escape into a fantasy world when they are with grown-ups who make them feel they are 'not with it'.
18-20 - A mature adult, really!
Shruti Verma, a counsellor who specialises in understanding adolescents shares her point of view, "The stage of later adolescence (18-20) continues to be characterised by polarities bringing in a more physiological perspective". These polarities exist because the prefrontal cortex of the brain is yet to reach its full potential.
This is an age where one actively seeks independence and is even willing to rebel to fulfil a want and yet surprisingly, at the same time, seeks direction as they are not able to completely evaluate the consequences of their decisions. This is an age where instant gratification coexists with a strong need to plan for the future.
These polarities could get even more deeply pronounced as individuals become more ambitious at a younger age like 18 but do not necessarily have the mental make-up to take on the big-bad corporate world.
It is an interesting phase to observe - the college student trying to make inroads into today's mature, professional world. One simply needs to observe interns working at various offices - an 18-year-old speaks about changing the world and passionately makes a strategy presentation to impress a boss. But the same 18-year-old gets drunk the night before an important meeting and is unable to make it to the office when an important deadline is to be met. It's an interesting mix of responsible and irresponsible behaviour.
One of the girls at work once spoke about how she switches between being just a girl to suddenly becoming the women of the house and taking charge. Sometimes this phase can be a little painful as one can switch from being the pampered girl to then being asked to take on various responsibilities and stand on her own two feet.
Once again, opportunities are big here. For example, can a brand exploit the need to be a little irresponsible at times and then a sensible, responsible adult at other times?
This also helps to look at our audience from a multidimensional perspective. For example, take a college student who wants to make a mark in the tough world but also has a share of childlike vulnerabilities that lies within a so-called grown-up exterior.
Often, we are presented with a broad demographic of 8-14 or 16-22 years for audiences. But the world of a 13-14-year-old is radically different from that of 7-10-year-old.
The in-between age groups or the 'cusps', can be an effective bridge to connect with a broader audience. They can be portrayed in a manner that can cut across a broader audience by oscillating between their childlike and more mature selves.
To sum it up, as Amee Gandhi, a counsellor, says, "the commonality between these age groups is the mental fix between what they want and what they are expected to be. The expectation to behave their age is a social norm which is supposed to be met if one needs acceptance."
The tensions that result from these expectations will continue to be more pronounced in these age groups.
As a marketer, there is a wealth of such opportunities to explore. Let's keep digging deeper and ride these opportunities.
(The author is an independent brand consultant and former planning head, South India, McCann)