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Similarities, differences & extremes: looking at similarities, differences and extremes will help companies design marketing plans.

There are nearly 6.5 billion people in the world and every single person is different. When crafting a marketing plan, instead of stressing the differences, it may be more efficient to start out by identifying what people have in common. Seeking the commonalities among population groups is huge business.

There are 77 million "baby boomers" in the U.S., representing about one of every four persons, and they control 50% of all U.S. spending. This group is characterized by fierce independence and self-indulgence. Understanding their similarities in needs and desires can lead to a big payoff.

You can also find similarities in the nutraceuticals business. For those interested in consuming nutraceutical products, we can see that many of them suffer from the same ailments, are apprehensive about the same health conditions and are interested in achieving a healthy lifestyle. How they choose to deal with a health condition or achieve a healthy lifestyle, though, may be very different story.

Strategically, companies should start out by identifying the similarities that will eventually lead to efficiencies in a marketing or product approach. Just as many teens around the world watch and are interested in MTV, many baby boomers are seeking longevity, embrace technology and like to travel. Today, traditional network TV viewership is declining in the U.S., so it becomes important to reach people in other ways. Reaching baby boomers on the go or on the Internet with a message that appeals to a common need makes sense, but embracing their differences is what makes a marketing program more effective.

Once we have identified and defined similarities, how do we identify and define differences? We can start to understand demographic differences by looking at financial status. This does not always mean income, as it could also include savings, investments and assets. While some baby boomers seeking longevity have the wealth to fly to exotic clinics and spas, others are just trying to make ends meet. When you apply these differences to the supplement business, a different approach to market might be needed depending on the types of baby boomers you are trying to reach with your products. Those with great wealth may embrace a complex regimen of dietary supplements, while those with limited means may be seeking the most comprehensive all-in-one supplement they can find.

We also want to look at behavioral and attitudinal differences. Are the baby boomers you are trying to reach couch potatoes or are they proactive in seeking a healthier lifestyle? Most research firms divide the population into five or six basic segments that include people ranging from those who stick with old, less healthy habits to those who are the most progressive in learning about health and changing their lifestyle. If we singled out the segment of the population looking to ease the discomfort from arthritis, then we looked at the differences in both geography and behavior, we may find that Pacific Coast arthritis sufferers who are health aware and leading a healthier lifestyle will embrace a very different product than the mainstream arthritis sufferers who are far less health aware. Layering attitude and behavior on top of demographics can lead to better strategy.

Understanding and categorizing similarities and differences are key in any marketing strategy. When we lay these out clearly, we can find more ways to target people more efficiently and effectively. By starting with similar needs and benefits, we are often able to reduce product changes as well as brands, images and even sayings. This is easily applied to a very popular probiotic beverage called Yakult, which maintains the same name and product presentation in all countries. There is tremendous efficiency in keeping names and presentations uniform across regions. (We might wonder if, in the U.S., Yakult might produce better results with larger sizes and servings given Americans' cravings for big portions!)

A final tip is to focus on the extremes. It is actually of greater benefit for companies to cater to health extremists, and even to subcategories of health extremists, than those consumers who are in the middle. In fact, several research groups show the segment of consumers who are lazy or resistant to changing diet habits, as well as the segment that is heavily committed to good health habits--both extremes--are the segments that are growing. Marketing to groups that lie on the extremes of the population will turn products into profits.

Greg Kitzmiller is a marketing faculty member at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, Bloomington, IN. He is also co-director of the Clobal Business Information Network (GBIN) at the Kelley School of Business. He combines international and domestic strategic and marketing management experience with university teaching, professional speaking, executive education and consulting. Mr. Kitzmiller can be reached at 1309 East Tenth St., Bloomington, IN 46405-1701; 812-855-1004; Fax: 812-855-6440; E-mail:
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Author:Kitzmiller, Greg
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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