David Allison is convinced millennials aren’t a thing; he feels the same way about baby boomers, too.
In fact, all those age-based groups society loves to endlessly dissect, Gen X, Gen Y, Zoomers: Allison says none of it is real.
“These things are laughable, they make no sense,” he told a Kelowna crowd late last week, when he spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Urban Development Institute.
Allison believes the old-school, age-based demographic boxes that have been governing so many decisions for so many years are wildly ineffective, despite the fact that they are folded into the very fabric of our society.
When new policies are written, new products developed, new communities are planned, Allison says familiar age categories are some of the first things planners look at. Almost everything is made based on them, and they’ve had an enormous impact on society.
“In our businesses, in our boardrooms, we can all chant these categories: 18-24, 25-36, 37-45,46-55 and so on,” he says. “Age is so rooted in everything we think about that sometimes we don’t even know we’re being agest.”
But after finishing two years of research, he claims he’s found hard numbers that prove those categories are bogus.
Allison runs his own research and marketing firm. With the help of researches from a New Zealand university, he surveyed 60,000 people around the world, asking them hundreds of questions each.
The results, he says, put hard numbers to what he had already expected.
“We can’t predict what anyone’s going to be like based on how old they are,” he says.
The surveys Allison worked from essentially aimed to identify what people value, across a broad spectrum of people and topics. He says the results show that typical, age-based demographic groups are a terrible way of predicting how people will act.
Baby boomers, for example, agree on value-based questions 13 per cent of the time; millennials 15 per cent of the time. Generation Xers agree only 11 per cent of the time.
“Eighty-seven per cent of the time boomers disagree on everything. They’re not a thing. Boomers just randomly happen to agree on 13 per cent of the stuff we asked them about. Boomers aren’t a group,” Allison said.
“How can we make decisions around a group of people who don’t even agree with other?”
In place of what he calls outdated age-based demographics, Allison has developed what he calls “valuegraphics,” a system that groups people based on their shared values, and what they believe.
“What we value motivates us the most,” he says.
While typical demographics appear to agree with each other very little, he says his valuegraphic groups agree with each other anywhere from 76-89 per cent of the time.
By targeting people based on their shared values, rather than their age, Allison believes planners can create things they can be fairly confident people will want, and eliminate much of the guesswork old tools left.
“Image if instead of decisions based on age, we used a different set of rules; instead of saying ‘we’re making this for people who who are this age, and people who are that age,’ we said to ourselves ‘what if we made this thing for people who cared about this?’” he said.
“I have no idea what this room would be like right now, what everything in our world would be like, but I can tell you it would be very different, very different.”
More information about valuegraphics is available here.
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