Years ago I was exposed to a psychographic segmentation model developed by Dr. John Cragan, at that time a Professor of Communications at Illinois St. University. By the time my colleagues and I became involved with Dr. Cragan and his model, it had be tested and applied in a number of B2B categories. Most importantly, the tests and applications validated that the approach was, in fact, purchase behavior predictive. That was important because the most recognized segmentation model of those times, VALS, developed by Stanford Research Institute, was lifestyle focused and with no direct correlation to buying styles. The same was true of Young & Rubicam’s Cross Cultural Consumer Characterizations model for global application. But Cragan was different.
Dr. Cragan posited and proved that there were essentially three different buying styles (although there could be also be permutations, with one style being primary and another having some degree of complementary influence). Those three buying styles were:
- Righteous: Accumulating and evaluating information. Establishing criteria through which to assess competitive alternatives. Doing it the right way. Not the “Innovators” in the Product Diffusion model; instead the “Early Adopters” characterized in that approach.
- Pragmatic: At first glance, the price-driven purchaser. Oftentimes “deal” or promotion driven. But not always…because the concept of lifetime value is not foreign to some in this segment, particularly when the pragmatism is supplemented by another buying style influence.
- Social: Often the most easily identified and thus predictable, the social purchaser is often dealer dependent. And even more often will wait to see what those whom he has identified as leaders will do/will purchase. Not doing the work, but benefiting from those who do. Primarily “Late Majority” in the Product Diffusion model, but could sometimes drop into “Laggard” mode as well.
Among the interesting elements of the Cragan model, and fascinating to learn while conducting field research to confirm the purchase behavior predictability of the model when applied to a new category, is the degree to which the buying styles can be “at war” with each other. That was exemplified time and again by how a research subject could be clearly in one buying style camp, and not understand at all why another subject could even think about purchasing for a different reason. The manifestation of that lack of understanding went all the way from quizzical to contempt.
Following is a true story involving a colleague of mine (we’ll call him Steve, since that was his name) who had previously directed “Futures” research for Young & Rubicam, and was also my partner as we conducted “focused” fieldwork” to validate the applicability of the Cragan theory in a market leader client’s category. It is a B2C example, but in a category that most readers can likely identify with…and featuring an experience that some, in this category or another, may even have had.
Steve had moved into a very nice new home and was seeking a new sound system. He walked into a big box store that offered not only sound systems and components, but a myriad of other audio-visual and electronic products as well. It was his lunch hour, and in the days before the coat-and-tie uniform was replaced by business casual (I’ve always wondered why business casual came in at about the same time that the three martini lunch went out. It would seem that they should go together!). Nattily attired, Steve strode purposefully to what appeared to be the right section of the store, where he was respectfully greeted by a royal blue polo-shirted mid-20s sales rep. The sales rep did a quick study, thought “class”, and profiled my colleague as a prospective purchaser of a high-end, custom-designed system.
Rather than asking a few qualifying questions, the sales rep directed Steve away from all of the combined component systems, and for the next fifteen minutes proceed to lecture on all the features of each and every component that someone like Steve should absolutely require in a system, and how he could help Steve put together a top shelf, one-of-a-kind system to go in his new top shelf home. Steve, as trained researchers often do, just listened.
Finally, as preparation for his big close, the sales rep decided to revert to at least one mandatory of Selling 101, and said to Steve, “Now that you’ve seen all of this, what do you think you really want”. To which Steve responded “Black”. And as Steve tells it, never before had he lost so much respect from someone so quickly. The audiophile sales rep thought he was selling to a fellow audiophile…and a well-heeled one at that. Instead he was selling to a bozo who would likely be happy as long as it were black.
The sales rep presupposed a Righteous buying style when all Steve wanted to do was buy a system that would look good in his home. Social, with a little pragmatic possibly thrown in. We laughed a lot about this one, but learned a bit as well, including how selling to differing mindsets requires accordingly differing approaches. We later learned that a product positioned against the prevailing mindset of its target audience was also positioned to fail.
The B2B marketer had better know not only what he has to sell, but far more importantly, what the prospective customer wants to buy.