On classifications and typologies (3)

The second post in this series ended with the question: what use are these typologies to anyone? This post discusses some ideas to answer that question.

Organisations aim to find and reach their target ‘customer’ in the most cost-effective way, and to ensure that the customer makes the purchase decision with them, and not with their competitors. This applies to all kinds of organisations, whether for-profit businesses competing for the customer’s spend, non-profit organisations competing to get more people behind their cause, or politicians seeking to win votes. In this post, we discuss marketers and politicians as two broad groups of professionals who use typologies successfully.

Marketers aim to create awareness, to strengthen the favourable image or counter the unfavourable image of their products or brands, and to gently nudge and handhold the customer to a purchase decision. Politicians aim to find supporters for their campaigns and their positions, and then to translate this support into votes.

Both marketers and politicians use typologies to identify who their ‘customers’ are and where they are. This is essential information for reaching the customers. Typologies therefore also help understand customer behaviour and the best ways to reach them most cost-effectively. It is worth reiterating that typologies are about homogeneous masses that bind us with our ‘type’, not about individual quirks that distinguish us from them.

Typologies can be used to create awareness and interest through to the customer’s actual act of making the purchase decision. Specifically in the context of social network typologies, there is emerging evidence that social network links can directly affect customers’ adoption of a product or service. Marketing techniques that take advantage of such linkages are a nascent and rapidly developing area of interest.

However, it is not sufficient to understand the typologies. In order to build relationships, thinking marketers and politicians must engage and do so meaningfully with these categories or types.

Here are some examples.

Ofcom may wish to classify them as ‘attention seekers’, but marketers see ‘Mom Bloggers’ as a ripe audience for marketing. That said, marketers would do well to remember that it is not a monolithic group and includes ‘Alpha Moms’, ‘No Drama Mammas’ and ‘Granola Moms’ amongst others.  Even within these sub-types, marketers must recognise the ‘influencers’ and target them with meaningful pitches. Wrongly targetted or irrelevant pitches are not just wasted, they also create negative PR. Entire businesses now exist for specialist marketing to mom bloggers. Influencers can create awareness and influence purchase decisions within their community.

In some cases, marketers are participating in communities where the target customer can choose to engage with them. Amazon promotes it digital downloads and Friday deals on Twitter and at the time of writing has over 5700 ‘followers’. Twitter however is free to Amazon, save for the cost of updating these ‘tweets’. Such scatter gun approach is unlikely to be useful where larger sums of money are involved and where ROI must be demonstrated.

Politicians are increasingly aware of where their target voter is.

Millions of first-time voters, mostly young voters, will vote for the first time in the 2008 Presidential election. They are deemed the pollsters’ nightmare, a wild card, because their behaviour is not easy to predict. But Harvard’s Institute of Politics research suggests young voters concerned and engaged, they vote in large numbers, they are a great support for campaigns, and most importantly both their votes and their long term political loyalties are up for grabs.

These young voters are also very active on the web; John Palfrey calls them ‘digital natives‘. Their ease with the web presents an opportunity for politicians to engage with them through channels not available before. Ergo, Barack Obama on Twitter (over 88000 ‘followers’), on MySpace (over 618000 ‘friends’) and on Facebook (nearly 1.95 Million ‘friends’). His opposite numbers, McCain-Palin also are on Twitter (under 1000 ‘followers’), on MySpace (just over 128000 ‘friends’) and on Facebook (under 550,000 supporters). The Technology Review magazine has had a recent cover story on How Obama really did it which illustrates beautifully, no matter what your politics, how the clever use of technology helped the Obama campaign.

Has your organisation identified the typologies most relevant to its business? What is your experience? What other stories have you seen or heard of, where marketers are successfully using typologies to advance their companies’ profits?

Related reading:

Birds of a feather shop together by Auren Hoffman, co-founder of Rapleaf

Pat Phelan asks the question ‘Are paid-for evangelists harming blogging?

HBR’s interactive case study ‘We Googled you‘ (requires registration)

MIT Tech Review on How Obama really did it (requires registration)

Harvard Institute of Politics’s Research on Young Voters (pdf)

Jeremiah Owyang on Social Network Stats

What do YOU think?