If You're Creating Ads, Odds Are You're Talking to Yourself

Xyte Research Finds Adworld Thinks Differently From the Average Joe

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If ads often fail to connect with consumers, it may be because the people who create and approve the ads think in similar ways. Now consider that they make up less than a fifth of the U.S. population.

At least that's the conclusion of Xyte Technologies, a start-up research firm that's bringing a behavior-based segmentation model originally developed for human-resources professionals to marketing.

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WORD NERDS: Xyte's model relies on factors including learning styles and reliance on thinking vs. feeling to classify people into 16 groups.
When Xyte, a unit of online-sampling firm StartSampling, last year branched into the new area of research, it started having prospects in the marketing, agency, media and market-research community take the test. The company found people throughout the marketing industry tend to fall into the "word" category -- people who prefer to work with words and have a longer-term focus.

That's no surprise, given the nature of the work, said StartSampling CEO Larry Burns, a veteran of Information Resources Inc. (now SymphonyIRI), who himself falls into that quadrant. But word people account for only 18.5% of the population, and the ads that appeal to them often don't work so well with the other 81.5% of people.

Testing TV spots
As part of its "Xyting Insights" service, which applies the behavioral segmentation to members of Knowledge Networks' consumer panel, StartSampling also has been testing TV commercials. And it found ads also tend to do disproportionately well with word people.

This is happening more often than we would like to admit," Mr. Burns said. "Agencies have to craft the ad to hit the brief and the brand objective. But they also have to make something the brand manager likes. ... We like to talk. We like word problems. We like to express ourselves. "

For him, the lesson is "there's a risk in going with gut instinct" in judging ads "because often our gut instinct is hitting only a portion of the market."

Xyte's "hand" category -- people who prefer working with their hands and have a shorter-term focus in their work -- make up 30% of the population, a bigger portion than word folks.

"They like touching things, tangible things, practical jokes and wisecracks," Mr. Burns said, and they often don't like ads that appeal to word people. "If you're communicating with them from an emotional advertising standpoint, it's not going to work terribly well," he said. "They like products [backed by] facts."

Xyte has found different vocational or behavioral segments have decidedly different tastes in media, too, even within social media. Both Facebook and Twitter do disproportionately well with word people (who make up most of the marketing community), but Facebook does far better than Twitter among the shorter-term-focused "body" group that prefers more physical work.

Walmart and Target show a similar breakdown (see chart). All types of people shop at both retailers and use Yahoo and Google search engines, said Tim Menzia, VP-consumer insights at StartSampling, but the behavioral segments do visit one or the other with greater frequency based on their preferences.

How magazines fare
Magazines, on the whole, appeal most heavily to the same groups as Facebook -- word (including marketers) and body (physical labor) people. But individual titles fare well with the other groups, too.

More broadly, StartSampling is touting its segmentation as an alternative to demographic-based media planning, noting that a man in his 60s and woman in her 20s may both be more alike than two 30-year-old men in their media preferences. Xyte clients so far include Publicis Groupe's Starcom, Chicago, for magazine planning and buying, and CBS.

Its behavioral alternative to demographics is a concept that certainly has some appeal to David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corp., whose older demographics haven't always made the broadcast network friendly to industry demographic segmentations.

"Xyte's form of audience segmentation has the potential for taking us far beyond demographics on our profile of television program audiences," Mr. Poltrack said in a statement. "Xyte has the audience measurement of the future."

Find out if you might be in the word row by taking this short quiz

1. Are you comfortable with emotional people and easily empathize with them? OR Do emotional people make you uncomfortable and have difficulty empathizing with them?
2. Do you tend to use feeling words to describe things that you like? OR Do you use a rational/logical approach to making decisions?
3. Do people seek you out for warmth and nurturing? OR Are you more comfortable with things or objects than people's feelings?
4. Do you feel it is more important to be tactful than truthful? OR Do you consider it more important to be truthful than tactful?
5. Do you enjoy the power of words by writing and speaking? OR Do you enjoy using your hands to make, assemble or fix things?

If you chose the first response at least three out of five times, there is a good chance that you are a Word Row person.

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