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Go Beyond Identity Graphs; Understand Customers’ Values

By Taylor Dua | 2.25.20

Few people today “act their age.” So, effective targeting requires going beyond traditional demographics to understanding other attributes, such as behaviors and personal values. David Allison, who champions Values Thinking, authored We Are All the Same Age Now: Valuegraphics & the End of Demographic Stereotypes to help marketers better understand how to attract and engage customers by connecting based on their values. Doing so can lead to marketing that’s eight times more effective than using demographic stereotypes. 

The research behind the book includes compiling the Valuegraphics Database, based on about half a million surveys conducted around the world. The findings show that those with similar demographics alone are much less likely to agree on specific topics and issues than those who share the same values.

Here’s how Allison thinks about leveraging value to engage an audience.

You’ve said that demographics is just one leg of a three-legged stool of key consumer attributes.

What are the other two?

I would call it a three-legged stool of audience analysis. Yes, demographics is still a very important leg on that stool. It's vital for us to understand who the buyer is from a demographic perspective. Where we've gone wrong is in trying to use those demographics to create stereotypes, and say, "OK, well, if that's who we're talking to, here's what they're going to be like, because they're ‘those people.’" That's when it starts to get murky.

The second leg of the stool is psychographics. Everybody seems to have a different definition of psychographics, but the one I subscribe to is that it's about your behavior around a particular product category. It’s basically a glance in the rearview mirror. 

The piece most marketers have lacked is the third leg in the stool: How are consumers going to behave around this product category? How will they behave tomorrow? We haven't been able to figure out what a predictive tool might look like, and that's because we haven't had a data set that's based on values. 

The reason that's necessary is a basic premise of sociology, psychology, and consumer behavior: What we value determines what we do. Now that we have the Valuegraphics Database, a data set large enough to actually predict the values for a target audience, we're able to predict what their behavior will be.

Talk about the Valuegraphics Database. How did you pull all this data together?

Valuegraphics is a data set of roughly half a million surveys that look at 40 core human values. These are things like trust, love, sex, religion, politics. Then there are an additional 340 questions we've asked people about those values, about their wants, needs, and expectations. If you add it all up, we've got 380 different angles; different lenses that we can use.

The surveys are constructed in a way that a statistician calls a random, stratified, statistically representative sample. What it means is, it's an identical, proportionate, miniaturized version of the population that we're studying.

For North America, it means that we have the same number of 27-year-olds, of men, of women, of 60-year-olds, of people from the South, from the North, from the East, from the West, black, white, Hispanic, Asian — all the different demographic labels you can put on an audience —proportionately represented in our database.

For anything that you care to try and communicate, any audience you're trying to influence, we can now profile what their values are, and therefore you'll know how they're going to behave in any given situation.

Share an example of how values might make a difference to marketing messages.

Let's talk about running shoes. Say you're a marketer whose brand of running shoes has a special gel inset in the heel. If we're able to detect that the target audience for these running shoes is X, part of our methodology is to confirm or deny the demographics that you think you might have for those shoes.

And then we layer Valuegraphics on top of that demographic set and say to you, "The people who are really keen on your particular shoes with your particular unique selling proposition have some common values. One of them is family and another is the environment."

The decisions these people make about everything, all day long, conscious and subconscious, are motivated by those two things. As you go to market with these shoes, you need to be talking to them in ways that trigger those values. That's the stuff that's going to actually matter.

Talk more about commonalities between those who share values versus those in broad demographic groups.

If we isolate Baby Boomers, who we all love to target because they're the ones with money, they disagree on everything it means to be a human 87% of the time. How is that a target group?

Millennials only agree with each other 15% of the time. All these speakers and experts who are saying, "Here's what millennials want," they're wrong. All they can possibly do is say, "Here's what 15% of millennials would like at any given moment in time." Generation X only agree with each other 11% of the time.

If we take a random sample across all age categories from the database, human beings of any age agree with each other 8% of the time. 

Basically, the big story here is that demographics don't work as a profiling tool. If we look at a demographically defined audience, and we profile them using values, we can get the agreement. In the presence of a core variable that they all agree on, the values alignment goes as high as 89%. That means it's eight times more effective to talk to a group of people who are aligned around a shared value. 

People who share values get an 89% score in terms of how often they agree on the various topics and issues in the database, versus, say, the Gen X group, who only agree with each other 11% of the time. If I was a marketer, I'd want to spend my $1 getting an 89% return on impact.

What’s the elevator pitch on what brands should be doing differently?

Every decision you make about a marketing campaign translates to trying to influence people to do something differently than they're doing it right now. And, most of the time, you're basing those decisions on demographics, because that's all we had as a tool.

Demographics are broken, so don't use them anymore on their own. Instead, use an attribute that we know actually is how people make decisions: their values. Use the same values they're using to make their decisions, and you'll be eight times more effective than if you use outdated demographic stereotypes. 

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About the Author

Taylor Dua is managing editor at The Daily Targum. Previously, she served as an editorial intern at DMNCY, as well as at The Drum. She attends Rutgers University.