THERE ARE NO FLAT MARKETS

If you travel at all, you pretty quickly reach the conclusion that the United States is a very, very big place geographically. It takes five and a half hours at 600 miles/hour to fly from the east coast to the west coast; and that doesn't include Alaska. That same trip also encompasses a passage through historical time. It is more than common wisdom, therefore, that the newer (relatively speaking) west and the older east are different than the heartland. Of course, there are also the many differences between the north and south; some of which date to the Civil War and others of which resulted from it. The weather varies, too, and impacts everything from lifestyles, clothing, recreation, architecture, industries, and seasonal purchasing patterns; so the humid SE, for example, is different than the dry SW. And the four season zones are different from the warmer parts of the country. Life in the dense urban centers varies from the daily experiences in their suburbs and exurbs, and from how people live in small towns and rural areas. To capture this diversity customers are regularly segregated into sales territories, regions, states, counties, markets, DMAs, MSA's, zipcodes and even Census Block Groups and postal routes.


And the US is very, VERY complex psychographically, too.
In round numbers there are 300 million people and 120 million households representing dozens of ethnic groups; the most prominent minorities, of course, are African Americans and Latino Americans with each representing perhaps 15% and 20% of the total. We belong to two main political parties (but 70 million of us did not vote in the 2004 Presidential election), a few gender/sexual orientation identities, many religious affiliations, as many definitions of age, income, occupation and education as you like, and an untold number of charitable, political and activity-oriented organizations. We are single, widowed, divorced, married, live with significant others, live with roommates and with and without children at home (and may have already or will in the future have represented ALL of these designations).

So it is not at all surprising to assert, as the title of this article does, that there is no such thing as a flat market, a product or service where the level of consumption is the same everywhere. Perhaps few would disagree. But I want to stress that I really mean it. Across the United States economic demand for just about everything is NOT characterized by uniformity in its pattern, but rather by just the reverse. And this has been my practical experience whether it's packaged goods, durables, services, or technology; branded items or commodities; consumer goods, business-to-business/commercial items or industrial products! The well-established notion of a local "cultural practice" does not just apply to farmers.

For example, looking at SMRB data on brand or category consumption patterns reveals hardly any with consumption indices of 100% across the board. This would be borne out even more dramatically if one were to prepare a bar chart of consumption penetration indices among the 66 PRIZM lifestyle categories or among the 8 VALS personality types. In fact Promo Magazine regularly runs a column in which consumption indices by city are presented--typically with dramatic variations. Of course, smart marketers have been using Nielson definitions of brand and category development indices (BDI and CDI) for years now.

One of the major implication for marketers is to exercise great care in planning and executing any market research, which purports to "represent the market." Quantitative research should have robust enough samples to capture the above diversity and qualitative research should include several locations--certainly no fewer than three if you need a rule of thumb.






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