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.
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.