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SMU 101 - Session 08: Brands & Demographics

Purpose/Aim of this session

In this session we are going to introduce you to understanding your audience through the use of audience profiles.

Learning Aims for this session:

  • You will develop an understanding of how to create an audience profile for your brand
  • You will understand how an audience is composed of sub-groups and how to build profiles for each
  • You will explore the practice of strategic storytelling which focuses on specific sub-groups within your audience

Learning Outcomes for this session:

At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Understand how reducing your audience to an abstraction is counter-productive and counter-intuitive to branding
  • Understand how to frame your strategic storytelling to engage the specific tribes and cliques that compose your overall audience
  • Approaches you can use to create focused branding experience that meet the needs of the tribes and cliques that make up your overall audience

How this Session Works:

  1. Read through the Overview that accompanies this session. This provides an overall context for the session.
  2. Work your way through the items on the Preparatory section that accompanies this session.
  3. Listen to the Lecture that accompanies this session.
  4. Work your way the branding scenario in the "Scenario" tab. The scenario is a practical exercise activity to develop your initial understanding of the branding concept.brand.
  5. Work your way the template in the "Template" tab. The template will support you as you take the first steps in developing your understanding of your brand.
  6. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your initial Brand concepts.
  7. In the "Free Audience Profile Databases" tab, we have provided links to the some excellent, free online databases.  These databases provide information about populations: from ethnicity, to age distribution, employment, income, activities and more.

SMU 101 Session 8 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Preparatory Activities
  • Lecture
  • Scenarios
  • Template
  • Reading Room
  • Free Audience Profile Databases

image representing branding demographicsIn traditional branding and marketing, you would call your audience a 'demographic'. Traditional marketing also uses the term 'segmentation'. A 'segment' is a specific sub-group within a demographic. For instance, let's say your brand's general audience (aka demographic) is males aged between 18 and 35. A segment would be 22 to 25 year old post-graduate men who live in a city earning between $30,000 to $35,000 who watch ESPN.

We're mentioning demographics and segments because they are jargon embedded within the branding and marketing industries. And you will hear them at least once in the preparatory videos that accompany this session. However, in the spirit of this course, we strongly encourage you not to think of your audience as demographics and segments. Why?Terms like these dehumanize. They allow marketers to think of their audience (aka customers) as something 'other' - the walking, talking, breathing life support systems for wallets, purses and bank accounts. That's the old way of marketing.

The new-ish way of marketing - what we like to think of it as the ethical and sustainable form of branding and marketing -  places our audience in the center of the story telling experience...not us or the product or service. Our audience isn't abstracted to the point of being a statistic. They aren't dehumanized. Actually, we need them to remain human- that's the part we build an emotional and perceptual connection with through branding. So reducing them to being customers, demographics, segments and something 'other' is actually counter-productive and counter-intuitive.

We invited you to think about audiences instead of customers. So going on the journey a bit deeper with us, we invite you to think of 'cultures' instead of 'demographics'.  And 'tribes' or 'cliques' instead of 'segments'.  While those words may have some negative connotations, they still invite us to think of our audience as people, as human beings, rather than abstraction. You can't inspire an abstraction. You can't speak with an abstraction. Nor can you share or engage with an abstraction. You certainly can share a good story with an abstraction.

We can, however, inspire, speak with, share, engage, interact and learn from cultures, tribes and cliques.

In this session, you will learn how to build a profile for the various cliques and tribes that come together to form your audience. You will also learn how to create a profile archetypal 'character' for your audience's cliques.  Understanding this will enable you to craft and share more focused and engaging strategic stories.

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image representing brand demographics

  1. The video below introduces the basic concept of finding your target audience. While the video plugs a branding company, We'll ask you to focus on the general points the speaker is making.

  2. Please read the following article written about the importance of framing audience conversations with specific tribes in mind. It builds upon the introductory concept outlined in the first video:

    Tsai, S.P. 2007. Message Framing Strategy for Brand Communication, Journal of Advertising Research, September 2007.
  3. The first video covered the importance of creating an audience profile in general terms. We're going to delve a bit more deeply with the next video. Marketing guru Seth Godin explains how the internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the past: tribes. Tribes, like a community, give ordinary people the power to lead and make change. Tribes give us the opportunity to lead.

    Godin makes the point that mass marketing is built on customers, demographics and segments. Strategic marketing is built on audience and tribes. Take notes as Godin makes his main points - and think about the ways in which your brand can lead its tribe. How will you frame your brand so that it can find its true believers?

  4. The next video provides an example of the overlap and the conflicts within different generational audiences brands engage with. It's an entertaining but effect insight into how to build profiles for different audiences and tribes.

  5. One of the aims our approach to this style of branding practice and thought is the creation of what we refer to as natural, organic forms of marketing, that holy grail of holy grails - word of mouth. Word of mouth recommendations are powerful. Think about the number of times you've made a purchase decision - from  a movie you went to see to an electrical item you bought to a vacation to a car rental - based on the recommendation of someone you trusted. Framing your strategic stories to the specific tribes within your audience is one way to achieve this. We return once more to Keller who has written an insightful article on this topic:

    Keller, E. 2007. Unleashing the Power of Word of Mouth: Creating Brand Advocacy to Drive Growth, Journal of Advertising Research. December 2007.
  6. In the video below, Seth Godin discusses the need for identifying the tribes and cliques within a given audience. It's a theme which he covers in more depth in the video you will find in the Scenario section which accompanies this session. Strategic stories framed to specific tribes and cliques can provide transformative branding experiences, perceptions ..and sales.

  7. While we've already provided the eBook below in Session 7's Reading Room, we're including it again here. This eBook offers a practical working example of how to use strategic brand storytelling with a developed understanding of an audience and its tribes and cliques in a specific context. In this instance, social media is the story telling medium. you'll be going into social media in great depth in SMU 103. For now, we're providing this to get you thinking about how and why understanding all the key aspects from the previous seven sessions of this course relate to the information in the document below.

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For this session's lecture, Stacy Kinney's webinar video provides a step-by-step guide on:

  • What is a Target Market?
  • The Importance of Your Target Market
  • Defining Your Target Market
  • Finding Your Target Market
  • Attracting Your Target Market
  • Appealing to Your Target Market

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For this first part of this session's scenario, we return to Seth Godin once more. This video explains why it is important to understand the concept of tribes and leading tribes - in contrast to thinking about customers and demographics. Building on the themes of the previous videos in this session, this video covers the benefits of thinking about audiences, cultures, tribes and cliques.

Godin provides some excellent scenarios for you to contemplate - and reflect on how you can adapt the points he makes to your own brand.

Putting what you've learned about audiences and tribes, we'd like you to create a mood board for your brand. You can create one overall board that represents the core elements of your brands, including colors, image style, fonts, headshots that represent your audience and tribes - or you can do one overall board and then additional boards that represent each tribe that make up your overall audience.

Mood boards can be a powerful aide to support you in visualizing your brand and your audience. They can also be brilliant strategy tools when approached in this manner.

Here at SMU, we use a great, free, online mood board tool, MoodShare. MoodShare is a helpful tool that will help you organise your creative thoughts, allowing you to create and share multi-user collaborative mood boards. Its simple set up means that in just three steps you can easily develop inspiring boards to share with whomever you choose - or keep private. Start with the search tool to find and save the best media online, including images, videos, sounds, colours and fonts. Then create and share your creations and get feedback in real-time with your team or client.


You will find some examples of branding mood boards below:

Mood Board example

mood board example

mood board example

mood board example

mood board example

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Before starting on the template for this session, we've included a real world example from Alex's work at Aardvark Records. He and his marketing line reports created hundreds of audience profiles covering numerous audience tribes for all of the genres of music the label sold. The main profiles were blown up to A3 size and posted, along with illustrative profile head shots, around the office. Having people say things like 'OK, we really need to speak to Jess, Liz, Stuart, Billy and River about this album, you know, get them talking about it' was part of the everyday strategy conversations in the office.

The example below is Jess. Understanding Jess not only helped us clearly identify why we were telling the story - but why we were telling her the story. It focused our attention on how the story needed to be framed, the tone of voice, the narrative we would use, the visual content we would use to convey the story and all of the elements the story needed to trigger Jess's attention.

Audience Profile Example: Jessica

Below you will find the template that accompanies this session:

Audience Profile Building Template

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Digital audiences: Engagement with arts and culture online, MTM London. November 2010.

Glowa, T. 2001. White paper: Understanding how consumers make complex choices.

Holt, D.B. 2004. How Is Cultural Branding Different?, Harvard Business Review.

Keller, K.L., and Lehmann, D.R. Brands and Branding: Research Findings and Future Priorities, Marketing Science, Vol. 25, No. 6, November–December 2006, pp. 740–759.

Priester, J.R., MacInnis, D.J., and Park, C.W. 2007. New Frontiers in Branding: Attitudes, Attachments, and Relationships, Advertising and Consumer Psychology 2007, Society for Consumer Psychology.

Understanding Mobile Marketing: Technology and Reach, Mobile Marketing Association. May 2007.

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There are some excellent and free US services online to help you identify components of your audience's profiles. They provide all manner of data: from education profiles in your state, region or country to income levels, ethnicities, ages, and other social characteristics. These kinds of statistics, derived from national census data, are available in many countries. The United Nation has a wealth of similar information for many countries around the globe.

The ones below are US-centric.

American Fact Finder

American FactFinder provides access to data about the United States, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas. The data in American FactFinder come from several censuses and surveys. You can search by ZIP code, city, county, and/or state to find a specific area's income levels, ethnicities, ages, and other social characteristics.

Aging Integration Database

The AGing Integrated Database (AGID) features data and surveys for the older generation in the US. It allows comparisons between states and includes breakdown information by ethnicity, income and other standard factors.

Data Access Tools from the US Census Bureau

Provides links to all U.S. Census Bureau data tools available.

United States Economy at a Glance from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the principal fact-finding agency for the Federal Government in the broad field of labor economics and statistics.

Demographics Lookup from MelissaData

The 2000 Demographics Lookup provides information on 46,455 places, cities, states, MSAs, PMSAs, counties and congressional districts in the U.S.

U.S. Department of Labor | Statistics & Demographics

Some programs at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) make significant amounts of data available for specific demographic categories. The Bureau's demographic categories include sex, age, race, and ethnic origin.

The 2010 Statistical Abstract | U.S. Census Bureau

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is the standard summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States.  It has a wide array of excellent data, from the percentage of income people spend on the Arts< recreation and Travel to industry specific data sets.

Sample Non-US Data Sets

The UK Office for National Statistics:

United Nations Department of Statistics:

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