Consumer behavior linked to choices


January 08, 1993|By New York Times News Service

To "You are what you eat" and "You are where you live," a market research company hopes to add this advisory: "You are what you read."

In a new survey, Yankelovich Partners concludes that what people read, particularly their choice of magazines, can more accurately forecast their behavior as consumers than demographic factors like residence, age and marital status.

"People have a psychocentric worldview that is supported and reinforced by their media," said James A. Taylor, managing partner and chief executive at Yankelovich in Westport, Conn. "The public is much more sensitive tothe realities of media than the media are."

The study, conducted last fall, follows a skein of surveys proclaiming that demography is destiny, seeking to help marketers in their efforts to give consumers what they want -- if possible, as the saying goes, even before they know they want it.

A popular philosophy holds that place of residence can be the crucial predictor of consumer behavior (or, in other words, you are where you live). A system developed by the Claritas Corp. uses ZIP codes to sort America's 250,000 neighborhoods into 40 clusters, which paint life-style portraits of their residents through colorful labels like "Blue Blood Estates," "Pools and Patios" and "Norma Rae-ville."

Research in this realm has intensified in recent years, as the mass market fragments into niche shards. As more products are aimed at carefully selected subgroups, marketers are eager for whatever data that can aid their search for customers within the most-desired market segments.

"Once people define themselves," Mr. Taylor said, "and restrict their media to consonant choices, the process becomes more and more focused."

The benefit to marketers, he explained, is that "if you see a company repeatedly advertising in all the magazines you read, you will begin to think that company is talking to you" -- and might, therefore, be more receptive to its sales pitches.

What makes magazines function as a leading indicator of behavior, Mr. Taylor added, is that people almost always freely select the titles they read based on editorial content.

"The public is extremely smart about media choices," he said. "It has to do with their belief about a magazine's belief in them as people."

By contrast, using demographic information sometimes has drawbacks. For one, clusters might not be as homogeneous as they seem; within the same household, a husband and wife could differ sharply in their interests.

Of course, there are holes in the Yankelovich study. There were not enough data about people in their 20s, Mr. Taylor said, and consumers with annual household income exceeding $150,000.

And people with catholic tastes, who browse among a panoply of magazines, can disrupt the medium's predictive powers.

What about a reader of modest means who subscribes to Architectural Digest, to see how the other half decorates? Indeed, a women's monthly, Vogue, appears among 18 magazines most frequently read by a category of men, called "Real Guys" in the survey.

That category is one of five media communes into which the survey divides American magazine readers. They carry the following coy descriptors, as outlined by Mr. Taylor:

* Home Engineers, women who prefer "didactic instruction books for the contemporary household" like Family Circle, Good Housekeeping and other service publications.

* Real Guys, men whose hobbies determine the magazines they read, from Guns & Ammo to Hot Rod.

* Ethnic Pewneps, shorthand for people who need people, who "involve themselves with celebrities and treat them as if really in their lives." They read titles like Ebony and Jet, as well as the Sporting News and Entertainment Weekly.

* Information Grazers, "self-defined intelligentsia" who read magazines like People and Time "for opinions they can share with others."

* Armchair Adventurers, the "traditional American bedrock," older, conservative people "who experience the world" through magazines like Reader's Digest and Modern Maturity.

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