Big Brother

The classic approach to segmentation in consumer markets used to be demographics. I remember clearly as a brand manager at Unilever presenting my target group as C1C2D, women, over 35. Not surprisingly, this was a traditional hairspray brand. But in the 80s, marketing people got wise to the fact that people may be in a clearly defined demographic group, but they don’t behave like the group all the time.

An example: people considered “core McDonalds consumers” were also going out for expensive meals at weekends. And even when some people do go to McDonald’s and pig out on hamburgers, they buy a Diet Coke to compensate for it. So the term “moment marketing” was coined. One moment you may feel like doing this, the next that. Like very well off people in Germany, who will drive in their Porsche to Lidl (a discount supermarket chain).

Despite lifestyle and “moment marketing”, some companies still need the traditional tools of segmentation. Especially at banks and places where the real money in your pocket dictates your buying behaviour. So yes, car makers still use classic demographics – albeit in combination with other much more sophisticated tools.

ACORN website screenshot

ACORN website screenshot

Another of these tools is called geodemographics. Basically, companies look at where you live and based on this they work out the products you probably buy, your lifestyle, etc. They’ll call you an “affluent grey” or “prosperous professional”, etc. What’s scary about the technique is that it’s often pretty accurate. Obviously you will go to certain supermarkets (as you live in the catchment area). So basically this tool means “you are, where you live”.

All the marketing people have to do is tap in your postcode and they have a pretty good idea of who you are. To see some of the classifications used in the UK by ACORN (“A Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods”) and work out the sort of person you might be, here‘s their website (then click on “Acorn Map” – other parts of the website require registration).

Alex Woodruff

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