Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Patchwork of Human Community… That Drives Sales!

Over the last two weeks, I have journeyed across America working with retailers, banks and local healthcare groups.

The journey has taken me from Birmingham to Cape Cod to Cleveland to Seattle to San Diego. Even Doraville… right in the ATL… and a city that was made famous by the Atlanta Rhythm Section back in 1974.

I have had the pleasure of working on gleaning insights about the served geographies, neighborhoods and groups of people that reside and work nearby.

What hit me yesterday afternoon is that I really haven’t blogged much about the way that here at EXPERIENCE we have the resources and tools to go in and really dig down into the richness of just what makes up the consumer marketplace.

Bank in the early 1980s, I attended an AMA Conference up in NYC — AMA as in American Marketing Association. One of the speakers at the conference was a guy named Robin Page from a corporation based outside of Washington called Claritas.

His presentation was all about how Claritas had built a system that profiled out the American patchwork quilt of neighborhoods and people into a set of 40 distinctive consumer lifestyle groups.

The lifestyle groups all had nicknames and when his slides came up with actual neighborhood maps of these distinctive groups, I was astounded by how reflective the groups were of the types of people who made up those communities.

After I attended the conference, I was hooked. And now, more than 35 years later, a lot of what I do and the perspective of how I see the marketplace is through the glasses of the distinctive consumer lifestyle groups.

Today, in 2014, the U.S. is now made up of 66 different lifestyle groups. There is no doubt that America has diversified since the early 1980s.

Back then there were Hispanics that made up the population of the U.S., but not near the quantity — and diversity — of the American Hispanic-Latino cultural groups today.

Generationally, America was not as sliced and diced as we are today. There were more of the War Generation and the Millennials were not quite being birthed.

There were urban, suburban, small town and rural communities back then, but now we have second tier cities, magnet urban centers and exurbia-villes.

These neighborhood groups go by cute nicknames… some of which I actually can lay claim to naming!

“Blue Chip Blues” and “Shotguns & Pickups” existed back in the 1980s and still exist today. So does “Gray Power,” “Blue Blood Estates” and “Young Influentials.”

But gone are the manufacturing labor neighborhoods that went by the nicknames of “Levittown USA” and “Norma Rae-ville.”

The upscale suburban Boomer family group called “Furs & Stationwagons” has evolved into the GenXer group of “Kids & Cul-de-Sacs.”

And while the hip and cool urban neighborhoods continue to attract the college elite, young professionals, the 1980s nickname of “Young Literati” has given way to the mobile iPad havens now nicknamed “Young Digerati.”

Today, the Claritas system known as PRIZM and also the like system for financial brands called P$ycle are both owned by Nielsen, a sister company of Claritas when they were both owned by the Dutch company VNU.

Over the years, I have built some very extensive segmentation models using PRIZM for some brands like BMW, Marriott, American Express, Discovery Networks, TNT and TBS, Church’s Chicken, Blue Cross Blue Shield, P&G, IAMs Pet Foods and Kraft Food Brands.

In the mid-1980s, I launched a company that brought the lifestyle groups to life in the healthcare business.

Also worked with PHD Media on building media planning models using Claritas PRIZM lifestyle groups.

Of all the clients I have worked with over the years, I am the first to say that the media folks are the most defensive and difficult to integrate the lifestyle groups in their media stats and sales strategy… and that is even true today with Nielsen now owning it.

Today, EXPERIENCE has licensed access to PRIZM in the U.S. and like systems in Canada, Europe and Asia. We also have a good understanding and ties with firms that have crafted like systems in Latin America.

We are passionate about viewing the work as a diverse quilt of holistic and predictive lifestyle groups versus shotgun demographics. Passionate. Period.

In the last six months, I’ve had the chance to work in some very interesting markets with some very interesting brands and in doing so, have been able to see the American quilt right in the midst of fluid change.

A couple of observations…

Historic minority groups are merging into landscape of America

Whether the groups are African-American professionals, second and third generation Asian and Hispanic groups, or even gay and lesbian groups, they are merging into our neighborhood landscape versus redefining our neighborhood landscape.

The neighborhood group nicknamed “Blue Chip Blues,” that 20 years ago was made up of family-centric skilled labor is structurally the same today. Kids are a top priority along with finding times to balance hard work with fun play with everything from motorcycles to RVs. Home is more home-base and Man Caves are not trendy, but something that is a given reward for hard work.

But today, those with family roots in Ireland, Poland and Italy, have been replaced by those with family roots in Mexico, Columbia and Korea. Perhaps the only quirk is that in addition to the Man Caves, the Mom Caves are a new given reward for hard work — whether that job is home-based or 9-to-5.

Boomers are changing the mix of the age 55+ lifestyle groups

Over the past decade, transitional empty-groups have emerged as a more dominant set of neighborhoods that in the past were viewed as transitional. Either the neighborhoods would quickly age into retirement living lifestyles or the empty-nesters would flee for the sunnier shores of Florida… but not anymore.

The neighborhood groups nicknamed “Middleburg Managers” and “Big Fish, Small Pond” are actually growing with Boomers in their 60s continuing to work or pursue new careers while groups like “Traditional Times” and “Gray Power” actually posting little-to-no growth.

Small town America is on the decline

Today’s Wall Street Journal posted a new release that showcases just how much of small town America is on a population decline as younger singles and families have to move to the metros to find work. Traffic jams in the cities are even affecting the feasibility of living in the smaller satellite towns and commuting into the city.

Younger, more service and hourly employment neighborhoods like “Crossroad Villages,” “Young & Rustic” and “Blue Highways” have declined, while groups like “New Beginnings” and “Boomtown Singles” have grown.

The professional DINK population is more permanent… and aging!

The headset of the 1990s proudly proclaimed that the female professionals were overtaking their share — finally — of the professional and management work force… but the headset quickly predicted that a very significant share would post a leave of absence to birth kids. Interestingly, a large share of the dual-income couples elected not to have kids and is now in their 40s and even early 50s wearing the DINK label.

Neighborhood groups like “God’s Country” and “Country Casuals” are great illustrations of growing neighborhoods with DINK couples establishing roots along with peers where bikes, swing sets and family stickers on the back of the SUVs are no where to be seen.

Where do the Live-Work-Play developments fit in the mix?

I post this observation as more of a question than a statement. I am not sure I have the answer yet … but certainly active in observation with a number of new municipal clients.

Live-Work-Play developments are booming right now as builders and developers see opportunity for multiple points of revenue, frustrated commuters see an avenue of escape from their standard hour long drives to work and Millennials crave the physical interaction that Facebook provides on the web-world.

But Live-Work-Play developments sport a combination of urban density against the backdrops of city, suburban and even exurban life. A strong share of those dwelling are rental and Millennial and there are bets on the table, transitional too.

Part of my gut predicts that they will become more matched up with a mix of “Urban Acheivers,” “Brite Lites, Li’l City” and “Young Influentials.”

There is no question that Baby Boomers shook the retail market into everything from fast food to drive-thrus to regional malls. Funny how those have attempted to transition and keep pace with the Boomers, but how many have fallen into a service mix with the transitional teen-to-twenty males and new immigrant groups.

Another part of my gut predicts that perhaps in about five to ten years, the Live-Work-Play developments may face a challenge that malls are facing today as the Millennials move onward.


I know that this is a long blog, but I hope those taking the time to read it, send feedback or better yet, pick up the phone and give me a call.

PRIZM and lifestyle segmentation is cool stuff. More importantly, it does drive business and bottomlines when used by those who see more than just the statistical numbers!

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.