Debunking marketing stereotypesThere was a very interesting interview recently in Marketing Week with the MD of Waitrose Mark Price, in which he offered the following insight: “We are not defined by the income of our customers – we define ourselves by our values and the values of our customers.”

The article goes on to say: “This all-encompassing approach is reflected in Waitrose’s advertising, which avoids targeting demographic segments in favour of promoting the company’s values. Often this relates to the quality and provenance of the retailer’s produce – messages that are enhanced by the brand’s ongoing relationship with TV chefs Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith.”

What has this got to do with social media? A great deal, because social networks can inform businesses about what people like, want, enjoy and believe in. In the same way that Waitrose has discovered that there are electricians who drink champagne and baronets that enjoy eating mushy peas, social media is showing that marketing based on assumptions that people of a certain social group, gender, age or ethnic origin behave in a certain way is inaccurate, outdated and inherently patronising.

For both B2C and B2B communication, businesses need to examine and assess their targeted messaging in the light of what social media can tell us.

Targeting without assumptions

Just under a year ago the BBC conducted a massive survey1 of 161,000 people which concluded that the UK was not divided into three social classes (upper, middle and working class) but seven. This was based on assessments of income, the number and status of acquaintances and cultural interests. This came up with some rather weird groupings like:

  • Technical middle class: “A small distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital.” (i.e. We geeks don’t like the cinema and anyway we don’t have any mates to go with)

  • Emergent service workers: “A new young urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital” (i.e. All fifty of us friends will chip in to buy a cinema ticket and then hold a raffle to see who gets to see the movie)

This class definition formula is suspiciously similar to the ABC1 categorisation2 that has us divided into six social groupings ranging from A (upper middle class – higher managerial, administrative, professional) to E (lowest level of subsistence – like state pensioners and casual workers). ABC1 is a well known demographic formula used by advertisers and market researchers and by publications to define their readership.

But is either of these methods of demographic classification truly helpful? It seems from the recent Marketing Week interview3 with Waitrose MD Mark Price that he doesn’t think so: “We get state pensioners with very little money shopping at Waitrose because they can buy produce at the quality they want.”

Targeting and segmentation are of course invaluable in marketing and some methods are accurate and logical. For instance in the B2B context:


  • By job description - if someone’s a financial director there’s a pretty good chance that they’re interested in financial information

  • By market  - an engineering company is more likely to be in the market for widgets than agricultural fertiliser

  • By location – given a choice of suppliers offering the same service at a similar price either locally or 500 miles away, the customer would normally choose the closer option

It’s when assumptions are made about target audiences based on old style demographics and when their actions are thought to be predictable that things can go badly wrong.  A fascinating TED Talk by Johanna Blakley4 describes a very different vision of targeting through the monitoring of social media interest groups and communities.  Her insights into the worldwide predominance of women using social media are also of great interest.


BBI Brandboost is continually using the potential offered by social media to engage with target audiences as an important element in web and marketing strategies. Contact us on 01494 452600, by email or via the Live Chat function on our website to discuss new opportunities for sophisticated and focused targeting and communication.