Demographic Data Is Critical for Media

A collage of photos of people from various demographic data groups.
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Demographic data sounds like a term that would only come up in a meeting of market research experts. But if you work in media, you need to know the basics of demographics to ensure your media product -- whether it's a TV newscast, radio show, magazine or website -- reaches the people you want.

Simply put, demographic data information is used in media marketing to classify an audience by age, gender, race and other categories. In media, as in all business, demographics are used to pinpoint potential audience growth and to spot under-performance.

Here's a sure sign of a media rookie: You ask him who he wants to reach with his TV program, and he says, "Everybody." True, it's called "broadcasting", but if you try to hit too broad of an audience, you likely end up reaching nobody.

Examples of Products That Reach Different Demographics

Cosmopolitan, Woman's Day and Better Homes & Gardens are magazines that reach the female demographic. But beyond that, they target different types of women.

You wouldn't think twice about seeing a racy subject advertised on the cover of Cosmopolitan. That's because it aims to reach a younger, hipper worldly woman than its rivals. The publishers of Cosmo know they're talking to a much different audience that the women who read Better Homes & Gardens, which would never put a sexy headline on its cover.

Finding Your Most Desired Demos

A TV station or network tracks its success using Nielsen ratings. These ratings reports not only show the overall household numbers, but they also break down the results by various demographic categories.

In television, most producers would like to reach people ages 18-34, 18-49 or 25-54. The reason is those are the groups most coveted by TV advertisers. Sure, the TV networks want to create a hit show. But they also want to be able to sell commercials within the program.

That's why you see many prime time TV programs that feature people in these age groups in the starring roles. Yes, there may be a grandmother in the show, but not as the star.

How Products Are Tweaked to Reach Key Demos

A TV news director knows there is an infinite number of stories he could pursue. But when it comes time to make choices, demographics often play a role. Sure, a station will cover the murder of a senior man who isn't in the target demographic groups. But when it's time to decide whether to do a special report on social security or public schools, the schools usually win out.

That's because parents of young children fall into that 18-34, 18-49, 25-54 age range. If the station does decide to do a story on social security, it could present it as what younger adults can do to make sure their aging parents have the money they need to live. Taking that perspective helps the subject appeal to younger viewers.

Changing Your Product to Hit the Audience You Want

Media companies constantly modify their products and the way they are advertised to hit a certain demographic group. The publisher of a women's magazine who follows demographic trends may decide her audience is becoming too old to attract the top advertisers. So she will focus on putting younger people on the cover and writing articles for a younger female customer to change the magazine's demographic makeup.

In the magazine world, general interest publications that were designed to appeal to people of all ages and both genders sometimes struggle by trying to attract such a broad audience. Life and Look magazines are two examples. Readers enjoy magazines that seem tailored just for them.

When you're launching your media product or evaluating a product that's been around for years, use demographic data as a yardstick for growth. If you only appeal to people ages 65+, the sad fact is, as they pass away, so does your customer base unless you are constantly seeking younger people who will grow to use your product even if they aren't ready for it today.