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Consumers Ц Classification and Typology
There is a buyer for all merchandise Ц a saying.
My job has given me interesting experience Ц on the one hand, I work with financial reports of major companies and see their attempts to classify buyers into groups. In Motorola reports, for example, you may come across the word "Techy" which stands for buyers mostly interested in cutting edge technologies. Nokia is using such coinages that often leave me wondering what the hell they meant. Manufacturers try to classify the motives and desires of buyers that drive them into purchasing stuff.
And, of course, there are companies that carry out such researches and investigate buyers' motives. Mobile Research Group is one of them Ц I have created several classifications of buyers in Russia and the CIS and I am constantly revising them. But this task is infernally difficult Ц it is amusing for a researcher but the result always has little to do with the actual market and real demand. This job requires deep knowledge in philosophy, state management, consumer markets analysis and it's never accurate. The best a researcher can do is to create a snapshot of the market as it is at the moment. But no one has ever managed to create a model that would accurately describe the motives of buyers. A market model today guesses and does not reliable forecast Ц it is just roulette. We live in a very complicated world driven by spontaneous events and simple models cannot describe it while comprehensive models get so sophisticated that they lose contact with reality. My experience tells me that any classification of consumers based on their motives, intentions, social status and other aspects is doomed to fail. This just does not work. For example, Nokia's 8000 series was very popular in Russia and not because this family was positioned for "successful and confident people with a higher than average income". Many people from much lower social strata were buying it in credit despite the fact that the phones were not targeted at them and many simply could not allow to buy such expensive phones.
In the zillion reports I have read I have never come across an honest statement saying that the phone is popular with completely different audience than was expected. An unexpected success of a phone some why makes market analysts think that they were right all along. Remember Motorola RAZR? No one expected it to become so popular Ц but it just happened.
Back in 2005 the Motorola's marketing department continued to measure the success of this phone in the percentage of the style phone market occupied. The growth was incredible: 10%, 20%, 50% and finally 100% of the segment. At a certain point someone understood that cornering of the whole market of style phones and its expansion looks illogic and ridiculous so this way of measurement was dropped. But in every document and communication activities RAZR was still being called a style phone. Even in 2007 when this model went out of fashion and the price for it dropped down to $200 it was still positioned as a style phone. Period.
In the case of RAZR the positioning was obvious. This job is often done carelessly Ц someone just takes a model matrix and just adds another phone. Then they just copy the description of a similar model and it sounds something like "This phone is for successful women aged 35+ who wear Prada, drive BMW and work as top ranking officers". You think I made it up? This was actually a real description of a Korean flip phone for women. The preposterousness of the situation is that this phone costs $250 and it is interesting for many people except for successful women who wouldn't even look at it. The sales prove this it. The company didn't seem to know the truth about the consumers they probably just liked the idea of their phone lying on the dashboard of the successful woman's BMW next to a Tiffany bracelet. It a fictitious world filled with made up characters Ц a glossy picture which far from reality.
Another example: Nokia 1100 is a business phone. A low range phone that costs a few bucks? It can only make you smile but this is what billboards in Europe read.
The phone was designed for developing countries primarily for India. And in India the positioning made sense Ц fishermen and bazar merchants are also doing business. It is not the business class a European would think about Ц it is a cultural difference. Nokia created a positioning concept for one country and used it around the world and for the rest of the world it just didn't make any sense.
I can give you a lot of examples but they are all the same for all the companies and all the countries. I believe I made my point and you can have a phone designed for "single men 30+ who drive expensive cars and have higher than average incomes" and still be a 20 year old married girl. This applies to any product except for some gender and age specific products like face creams. So any classification of consumers is doomed to failЕ or maybe not.
Devil's Advocate Ц Why Consumer Classifications are Important
People need to live in an ordered world. Our thinking drives us to seeking interdependence and causality: Yin and Yan for harmony or Karma that brings order to the Universe. There are a lot of philosophical schools and what they offer is different kinds of the world structure even those based around Chaos still offer principles and laws and try to structure and order Chaos. Sounds ridiculous but it takes all sorts.
The worldview is changing all the time: from primitive creeds we moved on to mechanistic world models, today the quantum theory is popular tomorrow we will believe in something new. We are used to classifying phenomena, events and people and from this angle a market analysts does what any other person does. They are trying to systemize the world. The market analysis is just a private case of this phenomenon. In this regard we need artificially created structures to have an anchor point regardless how ridiculous they might seem.
Consumer classifications sometimes can raise sales of particular devices and can help the manufacturers understand who might buy this or that phone. I must make another note here that this is all arbitrary and in real life no matric can work in real life. It all depends on the knowledge and skills of the vendor. For a smart man a market model is a start point for further market research. It also gives the vendors an opportunity not to try and sell stuff to someone who does not need it due to his lifestyle, wealth etc.
Most of the discussions on the web about particular phones are not really assessment of pros and cons. What people do is they share their life experience based on their social status and circles they belong to. Many people cannot take the point of view of their interlocutors and are damn sure that their position is solid. People use megahertz, gigabytes, display specs etc. in arguments trying to prove their point but they just describe what's relevant to their lives. From a philosophical point of view they just try to fight and stand their ground and prove once and for all who is right. It is an eternal holy war where no one ever wins and no one ever loses Ц everyone just sticks to his opinion.
My Classification of Buyers Types
I could have used a smart classification used by Mobile Research Group and pretended that it reflects the status quo. It could have simplified my work, but we want to understand customers better. I spent several hours researching Mobile-Review.com forum and other web resources to come with a new classification of buyers taking into account their online behavior. There is nothing academical in this research and it does not cover the entire spectrum. Feel free to offer any additions to the classification by contributing to our forum.
This group contains elementary and high school children, but I decided to use an old fashioned term, which in this case spreads to both boys and girls.
A distinct feature of the group members is that they either influence the decisions of parents regarding the choice of their phone or use a handset received from them. In the first case the choice is influenced by the fashion among peers. Subsequently, you can find schools dominated by a particular brand, be it Sony Ericsson or Apple iPhone. They do not follow the parents, but it is not a rebellion. Children are simply more technology savvy these days. Not every kid can determine the final choice though. They often want only the best, which is not always possible. Parents do not want to spoil their children by buying them superior handsets and it is only just.
Sufferers get the phone their parents decide to purchase. Among pre-teens the choice is disapproved and the victims of parental will receive compassionate looks from other children. Brands popular among parents remain ill-liked even when children become adults. They never make the same mistake and stay away from models favored by their family members.
In online discussions schoolchildren show themselves as radicals and defend their position until the very end. Alternatively, they can shift the position later on, because they are not conservative and open to changes. This group is very vocal and active. Some companies, which save money on thorough research mistakenly accept their position as that of the majority.
The group is homogenous in terms of social and demographic parameters, which makes it unique in the market. The problem is that the funds are released by parents and companies target them.
Don't take me wrong. I am not following simple borderlines influenced by the education level. Students represent different demographic. They are more urban and have a similar social status despite different backgrounds. The only exception is preppy students.
Students closely follow schoolchildren in number and homogeneity. Their purchasing decisions are independent, while limited budgets make them look for solutions offering good value for money. Surprisingly, they do not simply choose inexpensive or mid-range models, but go for flagships from various manufacturers. They like to search for an ideal phone, so they often change handsets. When you are young you always need something new and this tendency is reflected in their phone preferences. Another trend is swapping handsets with friends for a period of time.
In online battles students behave like schoolchildren, but their emotional impulses are balanced with better thinking and education they cannot hide.
People in this tiny segment are usually of middle age and above. They do not care about the specs and features of models. They do not need them in earnest, but their only desire is to get the best handset, which they often view as the most expensive one. Looks of the model are not important and you cannot impress them with rare stones and metals. Sales managers adore them, because these people do not know much about the market, but are ready to pay hefty sums for ordinary phones if they are recommended as the best. They have their own preconceptions about the leading manufacturers and keep on buying their products until they disappear from the market. If it happens they decide that their initial choice was a mistake and swiftly find another favorite without remorse.
You cannot find them online. They never visit forums or express their opinion. They have made the "best" decision possible and are not willing to change it.
People often say that the society is divided into those who favor humanities or sciences. The same applies to phone buyers and you can find here a layer of scientifically minded individuals. Their number is markedly higher than that of maximalists, but it is still short of 2%. This proportion apparently corresponds to the share of engineers and programmers who view their job as a lifestyle choice. Their rationale is simple for them, but lay people do not always appreciate it. One of the least weird explanations can be that it is worth purchasing a model if it features Linux or Unix. They often go for models enabling using a computer language compiler and helping to edit 5000 lines from an app's code.
Microsoft still has some market share courtesy of such people. In online discussions they are not tolerant of foreign opinions and often use such vocabulary items as "the true OS", "compiler" and "native code support". This is their life, but companies avoid them. The distance from their passion to hatred is extremely short. Yesterday's icons are quickly turned into villains. Marketing is not effective here, because it is impossible to influence their choice. Moreover, it is an uphill struggle to guess what they will like next, though some companies persist in their attempts.
This group contains newcomers to the area or enthusiasts of a particular trend in the world of gadgets with the love for megahertz, megapixel and gigabyte. They can be fanatical or unofficial leaders in their social groups. These people are not numerous, but manufacturers value them, because they create the image of a company in social media. Another term reserved for them is geeks, but I think it is not quite correct. You can enjoy their company until they run out of ideas and start offending others.
They are often vulnerable to marketing campaigns of companies at the expense of paying attention to real characteristics of handsets. On the other hand some of them are very professional in their hobbies and can answer all possible questions.
There are many people, who do not earn much, but still need a phone for communication (voice and SMS). They usually buy not the cheapest models, but something more acceptable with nice design. They choose only between well known brands and will never change the phone as long as it keeps working. They are present online, but are not active. This group is the most numerous.
This group is small, but homogenous. Choosing a phone is like a choice of a costume for them. They need not only what they like, but products enjoying popularity among peers. Some protest and go against the tide, but they are still not very creative. At the moment they choose between Apple and HTC. If you enter a fashionable restaurant you may be sure, which model has the majority of customers . These people are ready to change phones as often as necessary, but they will never buy the first model they see in the store. Nowadays you do not have to change handsets every six months to highlight your status. New iPhone is the only reason to make the switch.
These trend setters are active online and explain clearly what is behind their choice and why it is a must. They are pleasant to talk to, but the motivation is not clear to others. You need to ride the wave to appreciate this.
This segment is comprised of business people and civil servants of different levels. Features are not that important and they can disguise for the group of customers they share mentality with. It is an important quality for politicians, who this way can emphasize their ideological position.
The handset is more of an accessory rather than the tool. It marks their belonging to the group. In terms of price they need the lowest possible for an expensive looking model. Paradoxically, the members of the group try to save every penny.
You can decide by mistake that corporate workers belong here too, but their choice is made by their employers. Alternatively, they can buy a phone for themselves. In other words corporate workers have no freedom in this respect and can be classified into other groups. They are vocal online as they have plenty of time to discuss advantages and disadvantages of particular models.
This group represents people working in the arts and entertainment industry. Under the influence of emotions they can buy any model and afterwards explain their whimsical choice. Their decisions are difficult to predict. These people are pleasant to speak to, but are difficult to come across online or in real life.
This species is endangered today. The choice is rational and based on needs and wishes. Brand loyalty is relevant, but value for money is given more importance. The size of the group is stable. You have to be brave to make a rational choice and not to be afraid of being taken for a member representing another group. Homo Ordinaries can generate interesting online discussions, defend their position and motivate others. Their choice is not understood by the rest of the pack. They are alien to others and can rival fashion victims in number.
As you have understood this classification is my attempt to understand the outside world and play with readers. Hopefully, I touched your feelings and in above mentioned paragraphs you noticed features of your friends or even recognized your own habits. This articles is an invitation to decide if we need such categories at all and what is their background. Is it wort trying? This approach can be used not only for phones, but other devices including cars can come to the fray. Feel free to offer your own humorous classifications on our forum.
Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion to be known to the author and everybody else.
Published 03 July 2011
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