Dissecting the modern consumer

PR and advertising firms are adopting names such as "PANKs" and "mansumer" for consumer segments they want to highlight.

PR and advertising firms are adopting names such as “PANKs” and “mansumer” for consumer segments they want to highlight because of their increased decision-making and purchasing power in a changed economy.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, says a lot of marketers of household products seem to almost exclusively target moms, yet fail to speak to what she calls PANKs (Professional Aunts No Kids), a term to describe women who don't have children of their own but yet as aunts or godmothers have strong bonds with children.

The term was first coined by Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, a multi-platform lifestyle media company. In a survey with Savvy Auntie, Weber found 23 million Americans are PANKs, and that during the past year they spent an average of $387 on each child in their lives, and 76 percent spent more than $500.

Forty-five percent give gifts to parents that help them provide for their children, and 43 percent buy things for kids parents won't buy. More than one in three (34 percent) even expect to help pay for a child's education.

Collectively, PANKs spend $9 billion on children every year.

The research shatters stereotypes of the childless woman focused only on her career, says Liz Rizzo, SVP, reputation research for Weber.

“PANKs are buying more than gifts for birthdays and holidays – they are involved in these kids' well-being. The world is expensive and it takes a village for kids to be provided with important things in life,” Rizzo says. “These women feel they have been overlooked and [advertisers] need to acknowledge and engage them.”

Early in the New Year, Weber Shandwick will release a survey examining the women of social media and their demographic profile, as well as another on home-centric and home-loving consumers.

Corporate communicators and PR pros agree there are all kinds of ways to slice and dice the modern consumer. Even the massive “mommy” segment is being dissected using the blogosphere as a guiding post.

Kenja Purkey is marketing director of The People's Federal Credit Union and a blogger at grandnewmom.com, her view of parenthood as a forty-something woman with grandkids older than her new baby.

“As a full-time marketing professional, I grapple with these [segmentation] questions every day,” says Purkey. She says marketers need to ask questions like, “Is it OK to ‘just' target moms? Do we need to focus in even further on the type of mom who is most likely to use my company's services? And what does that mom look like?”

“There are special needs kids mommy bloggers, green mommy bloggers, stay-at-home mommy bloggers, working full-time mommy bloggers, vegan mommy bloggers, mommy bloggers raising their American kids in other countries,” she says. “The type of pitches that would appeal to a green or vegan lifestyle mommy blogger might not appeal to the majority of other mommy bloggers.” 

Not to be left out, the modern male consumer is also being segmented in new ways.

While the Weber Shandwick/Savvy Auntie survey focused only on PANKs, male equivalents of the category include Puncles, guys who don't have kids but are involved uncles or godfathers, and Guncles, gay, childless males also with strong bonds with the kids in their lives, says Savvy Auntie founder Melanie Notkin.

In its 2013 Retail Trends Report, BPN, the global media agency network within IPG Mediabrands, identified the rise of the “mansumer,” men who are the chief buying officers of their households, a by-product of flipped gender roles caused in part by the recession.

Unemployment at the height of the recession was more than 2 percent higher for men than women. “Even in their return to work, they have taken lesser jobs or jobs that don't deliver the same kind of financial rewards,” says Liz Ross, president of BPN North America and co-author of the retail report. “That has meant they have had to be more responsible for the household and equally split the duties with their wives.”

Whether by choice or necessity, the report found four out of 10 men are now the primary grocery shopper in the household, and 44 percent of them say they equally share in housecleaning.

“On the PR side, retailers have to change the language they use. Men are not as tolerant of fanciful language as women,” says Ross. “We'll see a diminished use of the phrase, ‘How can I help you?' - a very female-focused introduction - versus ‘What do you need to get done?,' in recognition that a man walks into a store knowing what he wants to buy.”

She says that, to be more effective marketers, companies need to identify the new characteristics of their target markets.

“From a marketing standpoint, we've been lazy.  We've been able to ascribe gender roles and rely on other historically accurate or easy categorizations for groups of people,” says Ross. “It is not that people have changed, it's just that our roles have changed.”

“We have to be willing to go a level deeper,” she concludes.

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