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Unexpected Consequences of Segmentation

Click here to buy - A How To Book of SMSF's by Tony Negline
Lester Wills

Segmentation has been proclaimed as a very effective way of considering a group of people for marketing purposes. By breaking a database up into specific groups, marketing can be targeted and, so the theory goes, be more efficient. However, there may be an unforeseen consequence.

A recent report from Stanford started with the following words:

Wrinkled. Bingo. Florida.

The first is obvious, it relates to the effects of old age. The second relates to what seems to be a universal occupation for older people irrespective of where they live in the western world. The third, Florida, is what Queensland is to many Australians, i.e. a nice place to retire to.

In a 1996 social psychology study, it was found that by reading such terms people were actually being primed to think "elderly." But it did not stop there. They found that these people even started to act 'elderly' as participants in the study who unscrambled text containing these and similar words, actually took longer to walk to the lift afterward. In other words, the study confirmed the idea that exposure to certain ideas and concepts, even through something as subtle as words on a page, can significantly affect behavior.

The idea that verbal, visual, or cognitive cues can have predictable effects on consumer behavior sounds great. In fact it sounds like marketers should aim to discover those special cues that would herd customers towards their products. But, and there is always a but, things are not as simple as they seem. Researchers at Stanford found that one prime does not fit all. What's more, in some instances it can actually have the opposite effect.

The researchers found that in certain cases people can respond very differently to the same prime. In other words, you prime two lots of people with a view to getting a particular type of behaviour, and find that one group may react one way, and he other in a totally different manner, even though the initial instruction was the same for both groups.

They provided an example relating to telling men and women to shop for clothes. Both are given exactly the same instructions. However, their reaction's tend to be different.

According to the researchers, men typically set out to get right to their goal of finding the needed item. Women on the other hand see a "possibility-driven" experience with lots of room for browsing (I am sure lots of people can relate to both types of behaviour!!!).

To try and determine if thinking about shopping caused men and women to behave differently, the researchers created two groups. One was asked to write about their thoughts and experiences when clothes shopping, and another to write about the geography of their state.

Then they were given a supposedly unrelated task, i.e. to describe how they would approach choices such as planning a trip in a new place. Would they be purposeful, e.g. sticking to the major sites, or would they plan a more leisurely and rambling trip?

From the group who had been told to think about clothes shopping, they found that men tended to make more purpose driven choices on the trip question. The women on the other hand were more possibility driven. So far so good. Two different and potentially predictable types of behaviour.

But, from the group who had not been given the shopping prime (i.e. not given any instruction regarding shopping), the women made more goal-oriented choices, such as sticking to the map. The men from this group on the other hand were more adventurous.

So, when given the prime, men were very specific in their choices, as were women when not given the prime. However, women were adventurous when given the prime, as were men when not given it.

See the problem?

According to the researchers, this indicated that men and women behave in very different ways when given this stimulus, and that such behavior is in contrast to how they normally respond. As one of the researchers commented, "It's a clear case of a single prime affecting two different groups in an opposite fashion."

To test this further, the researchers turned to groups with contrasting personality traits, i.e. introverts versus extroverts. They found that when introverts were first asked to think about going to a party at which they knew no one, they subsequently made very different product choices than when they were not given this anxiety-producing prompt.

They consistently chose items that were less stimulating, and more calming such as a comfort food cookbook instead of one featuring spicy food; a coupon for takeout versus a meal at a restaurant; a CD of nighttime jazz rather than dance party music. But, their choices were not affected in this way when they were given an unrelated prime,

Extroverts on the other hand showed no difference in their choices regardless of the prime.

So the prime affected one group but not the other.

What does this all mean and what are the implications for segmentation?

When trying to influence consumers in subtle ways, it is important to understand exactly how they will respond as different primes activate different behaviour patterns in different groups' minds. Once the effects of any prime are understood, then segmentation can take place and targeted marketing undertaken.

Failure to understand this principle could result in people acting in totally the opposite way to what was expected, which is probably not the outcome you were looking for.

Who said marketing was easy?

For those who want to read the full article the full reference is:

"Understanding the Role of the Self in Prime-to-Behavior Effects: The Active-Self Account," S.C. Wheeler, K.G. DeMarree, and R.E. Petty, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(3), 2007.


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