Baltimore: the typical town PTC

June 29, 1994|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Jay Hancock contributed to this article

Get ready for more free samples in the mailbox, unfamiliar products at the supermarket and market researchers on the telephone.

American Demographics, an influential magazine in the market-research industry, has declared that the Baltimore metropolitan area is first in something, after all. It seems folks hereabouts have the most all-American set of values and other "psychographic" characteristics of any metro area in the country.

And that ought to make it one of the most-surveyed and most-test-marketed metropolitan areas in the United States, instead of what it has always been -- the most-ignored by market researchers -- the magazine says in its July issue.

"Baltimore has the most all-American attitudes of any metro, but market researchers avoid it for less-typical areas. Maybe that's why 85 percent of new products fail," the magazine says.

The magazine's claim is likely to come as a surprise to market researchers, many of whom take a look at Baltimore's demographics and dismiss it as being typical only of East Coast urban areas.

"I don't know anybody doing marketing studies in Baltimore," says Mark Millman, president of Millman Search Group, a Baltimore-based retail executive search firm. "It kind of comes as a surprise to me that they would say that."

But another local executive who works in market research contends that Baltimore's history of being little-studied may in fact make the place more attractive for future studies.

"One thing you don't want is people who are too 'educated' about market research, and I love it that we find so many people here whohave never heard of a focus group," says Barbara Gassaway, president of Baltimore-based Family Research Group Inc.

"Baltimore is a good read on the nation," she says. "It's metropolitan, but like a hometown. There are pockets of ethnicity -- Italian neighborhoods, black neighborhoods and Jewish neighborhoods. There is a gay community. And it works well for a test of any consumer product."

Does this mean Baltimoreans are now more likely to be bombarded by free samples and telephone calls from market researchers?

"I would think so, after this study, though it probably will level off after a while," Ms. Gassaway said.

Absent from the magazine's top-25 list were some much-used test markets, including San Francisco, California and Atlanta. New York also does not make the top 25. The next big-population area after Baltimore is Cincinnati, at No. 9.

One reason Baltimore has been so ignored for so long is that demographics -- income and educational levels, mainly -- have long been the chief concern when companies target customers.

By that measure, Baltimore is merely the 65th-most-typical of the 315 U.S. metropolitan areas.

The American Demographics article ranks markets according to "psychographics," a way of looking at consumers that market researchers are using more and more, grouping Americans into categories according to values and lifestyle as well as incomes and other buying-power considerations.

The hot market segment in this system is "Actualizers," people with ample buying power who enjoy "the finer things," are receptive to new products and technologies, are skeptical of advertising, frequently read a wide variety of publications and are light TV viewers.

One thing that makes Baltimore typical is that, like the United States as a whole, it is lightest on these sought-after "Actualizers," who make up about 8 percent of the national population and about 7.5 percent of the Baltimore area's.

The biggest "psychographic" segment is "Believers." These are households headed by people who are religious, tend to buy American, give up habits slowly, buy above-average amounts of home products, watch more television than the average and read retirement, home-and-garden and general-interest magazines.

About 17 percent of Americans, and about 17.5 percent of Baltimore-area residents, are "Believers," American Demographics says.

The other six segments are "Fulfilleds," who show little interest in status or prestige; "Achievers," who read business news and self-help publications; "Experiencers," who follow fashion and fads; "Strivers," who are image-conscious; "Makers," who buy the basics and listen to radio; and "Strugglers," who have the least buying power and "use coupons and watch for sales."

Being most typical is not necessarily the only way to draw market research. Bridgeport, Conn., ranks 315th-most-typical but may tempt companies trying out luxury items, "because it has a heavy concentration of Actualizers," the high-end market segment, the magazine says.

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