What's Working in Marketing™: Why Demographics and Generational Profiles Are Outdated in Marketing with David Allison, Founder of The Valuegraphics Project
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode we spoke with David Allison, Founder of The Valuegraphics Project. David has been around marketing for 30 years, from his early agency life to his current role as Founder of The Valuegraphics Project. He's an outspoken marketer that Charlie has followed for years because he calls out a missing link in the typical marketing research process that calls for psychographic and demographic data. This '3rd peg in the stool' is our core value system, and David found out it's the only true indicator of how one will behave. He and his team have been working on a valuegraphics database so brands can understand what any target audience around the world truly cares about. Join us as he explains why values can be an absolute gamechanger for brands with real-life examples.
Here's a full transcript of our conversation with David:
Charlie Grinnell: Welcome to What's Working in Marketing, a podcast for marketers that uncovers what's working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world's best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. I'm your host, Charlie Grinnell. On this episode, I'm joined by David Allison, founder of The Valuegraphics Project. David, thank you very much for joining me today.
David Allison: Thanks for having me over. Nice place you got here.
Charlie Grinnell: Likewise, virtual online because that is the world that we live in. This is a really exciting episode. I've been following you for a long time. I really appreciate you taking the time. You've always been someone who has had a very strong point of view around the topic that we're going to get in today. And so I'm super excited to dive into our topic around why demographics and generational profiles are outdated and learn more about Valuegraphics, but I usually start these episodes by going back to the beginning. And so could you just take us back to how you got into marketing and how your careers progressed throughout to get you to where you're at today?
David Allison: Okay. So the personal founder story stuff?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
David Allison: Okay, cool. Well, gee, I spent time working in other people's advertising agencies. I'm old enough if anybody's listing, remembers McKim advertising, that's where I began my work-life after college. And they got bought by gray and they got bought by somebody, they got bought so McKim doesn't even exist anymore. Then I went to work for another place that I don't think exists anymore called McCann Erickson. I think McCann might still be around.
Charlie Grinnell: I think McCann is, yeah.
David Allison: And then it was about that point I ran away screaming and lit my hair on fire and said, "Get me out of here." And started to work for myself, and haven't looked back. So it's been 30 years now. And everything from being a freelance copywriter to a freelance project manager to teaming up with designers and doing little agency ad hoc agency things, and then at one point, I met a designer and we were starting to do all our work together, and so we hung out our shingle and we started a company.
David Allison: We got up to like 30 or 40 people doing traditional marketing stuff, sold that, but that's an important point. We'll come back to that, sold that firm about seven years ago and started to try and answer a big juicy question that led me down the road to putting the value graphics project together.
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting. Interesting. And so speaking of value graphics, I want to just dive right in. Can you just set the stage as what is Valuegraphics? I think most people listening to this podcast have heard about demographics and psychographics. You've been very vocal online about Valuegraphics. So yeah, what is it, how do they compare to demographics and why are they important?
David Allison: It's the third leg of a three-legged stool, and that's maybe a great way to start talking about this. Demographics are a really important tool to help us understand the people that we're trying to talk to in a target audience. But all they do is describe what those people are. You know if they're male or female, rich or poor, young or old where we've been going wrong is we also think that it tells us who those people are.
David Allison: And if you just think about that for a moment, let's think about Generation Z. Everybody's running around right now going, "They like this and they hate that and they'll respond to this and they want this and they want that." You know what? There's 46 something million Gen Z in the United States alone, and you're trying to tell me that they all want this, or they all want that? It's some kind of big, giant hive mind of humanity?
David Allison: Forget the data, it's just a ridiculous proposition to think about it or that all men are like this or everybody who earns a $100,000 a year is like that? It's ridiculous. All it does is describe what people are. Then we look at psychographics. Psychographics billions of definitions out there for what it means, but my favorite is what's happened so far. So have people bought three products in a row over this period of time?
David Allison: Do they feel this way about that brand or did they have a good experience or bad? All that kind of stuff. We've been collecting this crazy people for the last 15 years and giant piles of historical data because as soon as you can write it down, it's historical. They already did that, but what we don't have, so that's the second leg of the three legged stool, demographic, psychographics. What we don't have is a way to understand what are people going to do next? And that's what Valuegraphics is, and it's based on decades of behavioral science research, which I'm not in ... I didn't do this.
David Allison: Other very smart scientists and people all over the world in psychology, neurology, sociology, they've been studying this forever that the way to understand what people are going to do, how people are going to make decisions, where their behaviors come from is to understand their values. So I mentioned in my little opening there a moment ago that I had this marketing firm and we spent so much client money running around chasing a demographic and sometimes psychographic target audience description, and the firm I had specialized in high end real estate development.
David Allison: So it would be condo developers would call us up and say, "Hey, we're going to sell these things out." And the cool thing about that in retrospect, at the time, it was fun, but it's a lot of work. Is it three years after you start, you get to meet everybody. That doesn't happen very often. if you're going to be Coca-Cola vice president of marketing for global Coca-Cola, you don't get to meet everybody.
David Allison: So we would go and spend over the course of a year sometimes, sometimes a lot less. We'd spend a bag of let's say a million bucks over a year. You get everybody to come and buy all the homes in a resort community or something like that. And then you get to be in a room with them. You've got a shrimp on a stick and a glass of cheap champagne. And you're like, "Hey, cut the ribbon, your building's open." And we look around the room and every single time we did this, about 10 or 15% of the people in the room resembled the target audience description that we'd started with.
David Allison: The rest of them kept looking around going, "Who are you? Why are you here? We didn't talk to you. We didn't create messages for you. We didn't buy in your channels. What the hell are you doing here anyway? How'd you find this place?"
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.
David Allison: And so it just kept happening over and over and over again. But it's boom, boom times real estate, it was like everything so we just kept doing it. And we just kept noticing it though over and over and over again. So when I sold the company, I just said, "What am I going to do now? I'm bored." I was bored for about half a minute and said, "I think I'm going to solve this. I'm going to try to figure this out."
David Allison: Who were those people? The mysterious 90% and why were they there? So that's when we started digging into behavioral science and learning that all these very, very smart scientists have proven they disagree on so much. Oh my God, you get into the nitty-gritty around psychology, sociology, they're all fighting like cats and dogs all the time, but they all agree that our values are the only thing that tell us how people are going to behave.
David Allison: So if you just unpack that, it makes a lot of sense, right? If a family is the most important value in your life and something comes along that's going to be great for your family, you're going to want it, it makes you happy when you get it, something comes along that might be bad for your family, you're going to run away from it. You're going to be anxious until you don't have, until you got it off your radar screen.
David Allison: So we don't want to spend any time on something that's going to be bad for values. We want to spend all the time in the world trying to find and chase after this stuff that's going to be good for the things that are most important in our life. So that's where Valuegraphics was born, was around that notion because when I tried to use that piece of information to profile target audiences, I realized there was a problem which is that you couldn't.
David Allison: There's no way to understand the shared values of an entire target audience. You can do it for one person. A psychologist gets to sit you down and give you an MMPI inventory, Myers-Briggs test, something like this, and then as I lay down on my nice sofa and we're going to get your values and your world back in alignment because that will make you happy. Right now you're unhappy, it's why you're here, it's because your values and something about the way you're living your life, they're not matching up.
David Allison: So we get those back in alignment and you're a happy person, but you can't do that for people that you can't meet in advance. So you're just the target audience of people who are going to buy product X over the next six months. How do you figure out what they have in common in terms of their values? So we built one. We built the Valuegraphics database. It's been 750,000 surveys we've done around the world now.
Charlie Grinnell: Wow.
David Allison: A team of translators in 152 languages, and we're now accurate in 180 countries in the world. We can tell you what the target audience for anything, what they care about. So you don't have to use demographic ideas about Gen Z or a man or women or rich or poor. You can just talk to people based on what they're going to use to make a decision. You have their value graphics now that you can layer on top of their demographics and their psychographics. So that was one big giant sentence. I barely took a breath. So it's your turn, you got to say something now.
Charlie Grinnell: No, I think that's all super, super interesting, and I think that was a lot about like value graphics. Just you've been in this industry for a long time. You've used the more traditional, older market research methods. What's your beef with them today? If you're sitting there and you're going, "Okay, there's Valuegraphics that exists, but what's your take on polling, focus groups, surveys, voice of customer?"
Charlie Grinnell: There's so many different things out there that marketers can do, levers that they can pull to try and understand an audience. Yeah, you've talked about Valuegraphics and why it's beneficial and all that sort of stuff is. What's the biggest mistake that you think that marketers make today in regards to those older methods?
David Allison: The absolutely biggest mistake that we make, and I was guilty of this myself, the entire time I was working in the marketing world which I'm no longer, I'm fortunate enough to do. I now am focused entirely on providing research to companies, but marketers fall into a trap of thinking that the description of a group of people, their demographics, and some indication of their past behavior which we don't always even have.
David Allison: We will quite happily run as marketers with just a demographic target audience description. How many times have you had a brief where the question is, "I want millennials."
Charlie Grinnell: Well, I think if you and I got a nickel every time a brand wanted to reach Gen Z effectively, we'd be recording this podcast from a yacht somewhere.
David Allison: Yeah, yeah. In helicopters hovering over the yacht with people sending champagne flutes up, a good vintage champagne, not the bad, cheap stuff they had at those housing openings I went to, but I think it's just thinking that you know what your target audience wants. Now there's a bunch of companies out there who say that they can provide this information, but here's the problem.
David Allison: If you ask somebody, if family's an important value, what do you think they're going to say? They're going to go, "Yeah, of course. That's what we're supposed to say." And if you ask them, "Listen, are you concerned about social standing? Do you really care if people think you're the big man on campus?" Everyone's going to go, "No, no, no. It doesn't matter to me at all even if that's the thing that drives their lives entirely."
David Allison: So that's the problem is we have all these flawed mechanisms to try and understand why people will do something versus another. That's why we had to build the database the way we built the database. We went out and we found all these 750,000 people. We asked them questions that in the research world, put it very simplistically, it's referred to as secondary questioning, secondary lines of questioning.
David Allison: So we never ask people about family. We ask them about, for example, "What's your favorite hobby?" "Oh, you're a hockey guy. Okay, cool. Do you have a favorite team? You do? Cool." And if your team is kicked out of the season of the second game, would you cheer for another team? No? Wow. Do you watch the games with your friends? Do you watch with your family? Are your kids part of this? Do you do it in the living room? Do you invite people over? Do you travel? Do you go to games? Do you own a Jersey?
David Allison: Do you get drunk? Do you travel? Do you bring clients? People love telling us about the stuff in their head anyway, experts on which is themselves. But in there, if you listen to that little scenario I painted, we heard a lot about loyalty and friendship and family and attitudes to work. So if you do that line of questioning, 750,000 times around the world, you start to see the patterns and the patterns pointed to the 56 core human values that drive everyone on earth to do everything that they do which is a shocking number, there's only 56. There's more keys on a piano keyboard than there are values that determine every human behavior action and emotion. It's kind of cool.
Charlie Grinnell: That's fascinating. I've never thought about that, but I guess that's similar to storytelling, right? It's like every story there's seven, I'm probably butchering this, but it's like there's seven storylines and then they just go out from there.
David Allison: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it's remarkable. Part of the story we tell when we're talking about how we decided to do this is that we've realized there was no tool to profile a target audience as something as broad as a target audience. So we looked for a model and we turned to the human genome project and the human genome project collected all the various component parts that are necessary to understand what it means to be a biological human, it's like 3 million.
David Allison: And depending on which of those are in your particular DNA fingerprint, you're going to be tall or short or black or white, or we you and I, our hair is gone or our hair stays. All that stuff gets determined by those parts and how they rank out. So we thought, "That's what we need to do. Let's go collect all the component parts that are necessary to understand the software that runs those humans."
David Allison: And the software only has 56 component parts. And depending on how they're rank ordered, you're going to be a family man who's incredibly motivated to help the planet and environmentalism, but you've got a little creativity going on and creativity really drives you. Maybe, maybe there's a bit of ambition in there, and now I understand who you are. So we take a whole target audience. What we do is go out and find a stat rep of that group.
David Allison: People who are going to buy this lip balm in Belgium, and we say, "Can we ask you a couple questions?" And we get a stat rep and they answer a few questions and it's all we need to be able to take that and use it as a typing tool to go into the benchmark study and go, "Ah, it's you guys." And some of you and a little bit of this and a little bit of that, then we can pull out these profiles and go, "Those folks who think this is the best lip balm in the world in Belgium, they're totally driven by this, this and this. These are the things they have in common."
David Allison: So now the guys making this can go, "Oh, well, we should change the packaging, and we should rethink our website, and our sales pathing should be a little different because we're not really ringing those bells the way as best as we could. If that's what they're driving for all day, we should be the lip balm that gives them that stuff."
Charlie Grinnell: Fascinating. Fascinating. I want to switch gears here and dive into a bit of an example. I know before the episode, you and I talked about some stuff that you had done on The North Face versus Patagonia. I'd love to dive into that right now if we could and unpack that for the audience.
David Allison: So yeah, that was a really great study we did. We like to come up with snappy names for things. So we call this study the GORE-TEX because it's sounds fun. When you see that word GORE-TEX.
Charlie Grinnell: Oh yeah. Stand dry.
David Allison: Yeah, exactly. So we profiled North Face customers, brand loyalists and Patagonia brand loyalists, did the same thing we just talked about. We find a stat rep and we ask them a few questions about their lives because these aren't values. These aren't drivers that are about a particular thing.
David Allison: It's about how they live their lives, and as a result of how they live their life, they are Patagonia customers or they are North Face customers. So the stuff that we know about these people could easily apply if someone else wanted to come along and say, "I want to attract a whole bunch of North Face customers." What are they all about? Well, here's their values. And now you know how to talk to them and get them to maybe come and buy from your new brand that you're trying to start in the space.
David Allison: So let's take a look. This is a pretty classic value graphics chart. I don't know if it's, I'm hoping that in the final version of this, it's big enough that everybody can see. This is what we call a range plot chart. It compares the top 10 values of North Face fans to Patagonia fans. Now this is super surface level stuff for each of those brands. We have segments and the segments have slightly different values and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But just for the sake of a fun little conversation today, let's look at north face and randomly I've chosen a couple values that seem to stand out to me around what I know about north face people.
David Allison: It is very anecdotal, but it seems to be showing up here in the data, right? So belongingness, massively more important. They want to feel like they fit in like they're part of the crowd. This is why North Face people buy more north face because they want to see other people wearing north face. And they want to know that they're part of the crew that's wearing North Face and that's more important than it is to the Patagonia people and then creativity and self-expression.
David Allison: Everybody has their own opinion around this, right? I'm just being anecdotal around this, what this data indicates, but here in Vancouver where we live, there's all kinds of film crews because it's Hollywood north. And every time I walk by a film set, everybody outside is wearing North Face. It's the defacto brand for the film industry. So there's a little anecdotal piece of information that backs up because look, the Patagonia buyer, they don't have any creativity or self-expression showing up in their top 10 at all. It's just not an important thing to them.
David Allison: So we got these people who are very intent on wanting to be part of the crowd and they see themselves as, and they're very attracted to anything that's about creativity and self-expression. There's a bunch of other stuff in here too, but we're starting to already get a bit of a profile for who these folks are. Now, if you were The North Face Vice President of Marketing, you'd be able to go, "Ah, that program we're launching in six months where we're doing a sponsorship of a film festival, that's all about mountain climbing."
David Allison: In fact, The Baum School of Arts has a mountain film festival. North Face should be all over that freaking thing. And they should be sponsoring the crap out of it because it ties into creativity and self-expression, and the sense of belongingness because it's a film festival. I don't know many other opportunities where you can see GORE-TEX and film festivals linking up in a way that makes sense based on data.
David Allison: This data is more accurate than you need for PhDs. This is the real deal. This North Face should be paying attention to this. So then if we look at the Patagonia buyer on this slide, so I picked out a couple here that again, meet my criteria of what I know about Patagonia, but we can see it showing up. Personal responsibility is a value for people who live their lives seeking more personal responsibility.
David Allison: They want to be the ones who get stuff done. They want the keys to the car and they want to know that what they're doing is move a needle. Now, we see this value show up. Remember, there's 56 that could be here, but we see this value show up anytime we're dealing with environmental brands. People who are environmentalists want to feel like they are taking steps personally that are helping the planet.
David Allison: They want to know how they can recycle today, how they can reduce their carbon footprint, how they can take personal actions to make the needle move more than they're interested in giant, "Let's all contribute and stop the glaciers for melting." Sure, but how can I do something today that will stop the glaciers for melting? That's what motivates them. So we see that showing up for Patagonia and then we see loyalty.
David Allison: I don't know anybody more loyal than Patagonia fans. They're just like everybody else sucks, Patagonia is the only brand that's doing things right. And then harmony, they think that harmony is a fun value. It's for people who understand that we don't all need to be on the same page all the time. Harmony is about three or four notes on the pianos that sound better together because they're a little different, right? As long as they're the right notes.
David Allison: So I'm getting a really great picture of this Patagonia person based on this data compared to The North Face person based on their data. And you can see on this chart that if I was a third company going, "I want to steal these guys. I want their clients to come to me." Well, I'd be looking at the places where the dots are overlapping and saying, "Well, gee, what can I do about health and wellbeing? How can I crank my online thought leadership, my digital marketing, my content creation to be the GORE-TEX brand that's all about health and wellbeing? That'll attract both of these guys without them even knowing what hit them." So there's a really simple view from 20,000 feet.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, yeah. Interesting. I want to dig into a few things. I really like this idea of applying it to something. I think that's something as someone who worked on the brand side in marketing for many, many years, people listening to this podcast or either working on the brand or agency side, oftentimes I've noticed that it can be difficult for marketers to interpret research into marketing actions or activities.
Charlie Grinnell: So yeah, can you just talk through? I have some like bullet points here of like, how would this stuff play into brand positioning or product positioning? How would this stuff play into channel selection, content production, messaging, those sorts of things? Can you just unpack that a little bit?
David Allison: Yeah, so we have a process we teach our clients to use called values thinking, and it sounds a lot like design thinking because I ripped it off from design thinking and decided that I would just hitch my wagon to their popularity. So it's basically like design thinking. It's a simple process to make decisions, but instead of keeping design at the center of the decision making process, you keep values at the center of the decision making process.
David Allison: So there's a thing we teach and it's like a four step process and there's nice pretty little charts and stuff, but basically boils down to this. What you're trying to do is find the intersection between what you got and what they want. So you know you've got all these product benefits, you've got all these opportunities to talk about various features or advantages that your product can offer.
David Allison: How can you line those up and overlap with what's going to drive the decision? And you find that sweet spot in the middle and that's where your brainstorming begins. So no matter what the question is, what should today's blog post be? How can we position a new spin-off brand? How should we answer the phone? What's our human resources hiring practice is all about? If you make the decision based on what you got over lines with what people actually ... Can we swear? What people actually talk about.
Charlie Grinnell: Oh yeah. Yeah, we swear on this podcast. Sorry, not sorry.
David Allison: If you can find that overlapping spot there, that's where the juicy stuff is because that's what's actually going to move the needle. What we're doing now is we're trying to say what we've got versus what these people, what their demographics are. And so that's how we end up with like, "Well, boomers suck at technology." So we should have big buttons on things and because boomers don't like button ... Or it's for girls and let's see, girls like pink, so it should be pink.
David Allison: And if you don't think that's happening anymore, go into the toy department. Any store, pink and blue. It's so obvious still, right? Everybody still using these stereotypes to try and figure out what should I do next, instead let's use what people care about and what motivates them is a way to understand people and make products and services and brands that resonate super deeply. So a real good example. Let's talk about a website. We all know what's the bounce rate for an average website homepage like three seconds?
Charlie Grinnell: Something like that, probably yeah.
David Allison: So you got three seconds to get people's attention. So whoever's there had better resonate deeply or you lost them, right? I don't think there's a more important decision that you can make. You got three seconds to make them go, "Hey, you got to stick around here. This is for you." Now, the only way they're going to decide to do that is if they see something, read something that has something to do with a deeply held value that they're looking to get more of. So let's go to creativity for The North Face folks.
David Allison: Let's say our job is we get to redo The North Face website homepage. Something on that homepage needs to go, "Hey, this is about creativity. Hey, you're a creative guy. Hey, we're creative. Something there has to say that. It could be the headline. It could be even just the way it looks and feels, what you .... Something. You got three seconds to go creativity as loud as you possibly can."
David Allison: So Mr. Brand Manager for North Face, what do you got? What do you got there that we could be talking about or pushing or moving to the front that right now is buried on page 27 after three layers of clicking? How can you get whatever you have that's about creativity to just slap people across the face the second they land and your bounce rates will go through their ... Well, your bounce rates will reverse.
David Allison: They'll go not through the roof. They'll go through the basement, whatever the good thing is for bounce rates. We want low bounce rates. So we want them to basement. We want to tank those bounce rates.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit more around stereotypes, that is a super fascinating thing. I imagine this stuff has been like MythBusters for stereotypes.
David Allison: I'm glad you brought that up because that's what really drives what we do here. Okay, little secret just between you and I. Promise not tell anybody ever?
Charlie Grinnell: Promise, not to tell anybody on the recorded podcast.
David Allison: Yeah, no, just you and I, just us girls. So the work we do with big corporations and we've been really lucky. We've got some fun clients. We get to work with PayPal and the United Nations and Lululemon and all kinds of fun stuff. So they're a Trojan horse for us. They're a megaphone. Yeah, we make money. But more importantly, these people have platforms and workforces that are enormous, and so we have these companies looking at the world through a Valuegraphic lens now and their workforce thinking about shared human values instead of demographic stereotypes.
David Allison: And the reason this is important is that our vision is to try and do what we can to build a more unified world because right now, I think the world is, I don't think anybody's going to argue with the fact that we're all dividing and splintering faster than I can keep track of on all kinds of front. One of the chief causes of this is the way we look at each other. We look around and we go, "Well, they're not like me. Those people are not like me."
David Allison: And we're using these surface level ways to understand each other that are based on black versus white, rich versus poor, young versus old, gay versus straight. And when every single product or message begins in a boardroom with a conversation about gay versus straight, black versus white, young versus old, rich versus poor. No wonder we have this divided, divided way of thinking about the world.
David Allison: Now here's the thing about those divisions. It's not only this binary divisiveness, but those stereotypes that we end up falling back on. We laugh at some of them like millennials and avocado toast and boomers and technology and all that kind of stuff, right? But there's others that are far more insidious that we don't even realize. And they're the fuel for racism and sexism and ageism and homophobia.
David Allison: So the beautiful thing about embracing a Valuegraphic perspective on people, not just your target audience, but people in general is that you can be far more effective at work because this stuff is actually based on behavioral science. And you can also contribute to making the world just a little bit of a better place by helping to reduce our reliance on those demographic stereotypes. So I don't know that that's what you were looking for, but welcome to my brain, that's what you got, but I'll give you, I'll give you a demographic stereotype buster. I'll give you a fun stat to take.
Charlie Grinnell: Sure.
David Allison: You mentioned Gen Z. We're all running around right now talking about, "Oh, Gen Z this and they that, and they hate this and they love chocolate and they want everything to be fun and they blah-blah-blah." All this stuff, these studies coming out all the time about what Gen Z wants.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
David Allison: B2B and B2C. So apparently there's ways that you have to deal with Gen Z in the workplace because they're different than everybody else. It's all nonsense. It's all nonsense. All of it. So we look around the world now. Remember this stat rep we've built for the population of 180 countries is more accurate than you need for a Harvard PhD, and we've tracked what people actually care about, what their core, core human values are, what really matters to them. And we look at a demographic cohort like Gen Z and they agree with each other on any of that stuff, 13% of the time.
David Allison: So that means they're only similar to each other, 13%. So that means what is that? 87% of the time, they disagree on everything. How can you target them when they're that ... They're not a cohesive group at all. And then we look at all the other demographic labels, gender, income, marital status, number of kids, all that stuff, and we average it out for the entire planet and go, "Okay, how often does anybody in one of those buckets agree with or look like"
David Allison: Not look like, because they could look like, but how often are they, how similar are they to each other inside any one of those buckets? And the average number is 10.5%. So that means 90% rounding off here, 90% of the money and time you spend demographics with a demographic target audience in your head, driving the way you develop strategies and ideas and brands and whatever, 90% of it's wasted.
David Allison: Now, we go back to the story I started with here and talking about the real estate, that room full of buyers. 90% of the people in that room didn't resemble the demographic target audience, kind of a coincidence, but here's the thing. They were all actually identical because they were all there. The only way humans decide to be a place and do a thing is their values. They were all valuegraphically identical to each other. We just couldn't see that. What we could see was the demographic lack of similarity around the room, but now we know. In retrospect, Hindsight is 2020, right?
Charlie Grinnell: Hindsight is always 2020.
David Allison: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: I want to switch gears here a little bit. This has all been super, super interesting. People who are listening to this, obviously working with you cost money, working with us, cost money. What's something that they can do to get started in thinking this way today? You talked about how you've had a lot of big global organizations who are customers of yours and they've started these values-based thinking. Yeah, what can the average listener, who's just sitting there going, "Okay David, you're a smart dude. I'm fascinated. What can I do today to start thinking like this?"
David Allison: Right. Well there's three ways you can start using values to target people. The first one is to hire us and we'll pay us a lot of money and we'll be so precise you'll be able to, yeah, you can count on it. Yeah, but it's not for everybody. It takes some time, it takes about eight weeks for us to generate a report and it and it costs money. So let's assume that's not you, somebody who's listening.
David Allison: The second way you can do this is to buy my book, and I know it sounds like a plug, but anybody who's ever got a book up on Amazon knows that every sale, you get like a buck 50. So a thousand people would have to, and I'd be able to maybe afford to take a couple friends out for a nice dinner. So it's not about that. That's not why you write a book these days. But in that book, there's a 10-question quiz, and that 10 question quiz, I hope everybody will use, send it out to your own CRM system, write it on little bits of paper and stuff it in chopping bags and give people a coupon if they return it.
David Allison: Do whatever you can to get that quiz out to as many people as possible, and you look at the answers and it'll tell you which of 10 chapters in that book your target audience is most similar to. Now these are the 10 biggest archetypes in the data set. So it's a bit of a ham-fisted tool, right? These are massive archetypes and no target audiences this simple, they're always going to be a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and there's hundreds of thousands of profiles in the data set, but at least you're going in the right direction.
David Allison: I like to say you might be playing the piano with your fists, but at least you're playing the Valuegraphic piano, and not that broken old D-string cello over in the corner there, the demographic profiling. So it's a good step, and then there's the freeway. And so there's just three questions that we've designed. We call them the three telltale questions and these three questions, if you start asking enough people, and listen carefully for the themes, not the answers, but the themes that emerge, you'll start to see some patterns in the noise.
David Allison: You'll start to go. "Wow, my customers, when they answer this question are always talking about this or that, they're using their own words. They're coming at it from different directions. Now, how do you get these questions out?" Train your frontline sales staff, anybody who has contact with a customer to use their own words and make it sound natural, but slide these questions into the conversation and then incentivize them to collect the responses so that you can start to see them in a mass of them.
David Allison: You could just use this as intake when you have customers coming into your system. It's going to take time and it's going to take effort and it's going to take some interpretation, but these three questions we've designed to purposely avoid as much bias in the way people answer questions as possible. You'll see their secondary lines of questioning, and if you listen to the answers over and over and over from enough people, you'll start to get a sense of what the values of your people are.
David Allison: So here there, first question. Why do you go to work every morning? Why? You'll hear everything from working hard to get a promotion to it's all about my family to it helps me pay for the things I like to do when I'm not at work to, and so you're just listening. You just listen to hundreds and hundreds hopefully of people tell you and you'll start to see those patterns, and you'll hear whether it's about family or ambition or creativity or whatever it might be.
David Allison: Second question. Why would you give away half of your lottery winnings? You just won 50 million bucks. Why would you give half away? Same thing. You start to hear patterns in the noise after a while. You ask that question enough, and then this is my favorite one. You get to send a letter to yourself 10 years ago in the past. What would you say and why? So it's a really good example of secondary lines of questioning. Not once have we said, "Is family important to you because everyone's going to lie."
David Allison: But if you hear things about family coming out from all three of these from your customers over and over and over again, then you better be looking back at what you're doing and saying, "How can I connect the dots between what I got and what they're looking for which is anything that's going to be good for their family?"
David Allison: So there's three free questions. I'll repeat them in case anybody's trying to take notes. Why do you go to work? Why would you give away half of your lottery winnings? And what would you say to yourself from 10 years ago and why? Now it's pretty obvious it's about these why answers, right? So we've all heard Simon Sinek running around for the last 15 years going, "Why, why, why?" So we're basically what Simon has been saying is dead on. We've just attached an empirical dataset to it and said, "Here's why." And that's what biographics are. Maybe we should call them Sinek graphic.
Charlie Grinnell: There's there's a marketing campaign if I've ever heard one. I want to switch gears here a little bit as we start to wind down the episode. I always ask these last couple questions here to every single guest. First and foremost like I said, you've been in the industry for a long time. You've seen a lot of different things.
Charlie Grinnell: What gets you excited right now about consumer research and marketing insight? Obviously outside of demographic stuff, we know your take on that, but you've seen a lot, you're obviously working on something really, really interesting and useful. What gets you fired up as the landscape continues to evolve marketers and their needs continue to evolve?
David Allison: Well, I think it's the bigger picture. It's not about any particular technique or tool, and I don't mean to come down so hard on things sometimes, but every time I see a study about what Gen Z wants, it makes me want to put my fist through this screen. My other favorite one is the brand indexes. According to this year's brand index study by the XYZ Institute, Nike is the most loved brand in the United States of America, based on us calling a bunch of people yesterday and them going Nike.
David Allison: And then today, they all went to the Nike store and had a shady time so now they hate it because your emotions change every 20 minutes. So measuring emotional indexes as they relate to brand preference it's like, "Great. That was cool that moment." But how is that going to help me with now? Anyway, I'm slamming them again. So what I'm excited about is I think we've been ... Someone sent out a memo about 10, 15 years ago and said, "Data is the new gold and you better get as much data as you can."
David Allison: And everybody snapped to, and was just like, "Let's collect data." And we built giant, huge, enormous steaming piles of data. And many times we end up with data paralysis where people are just looking at it and going, "Well, okay, cool. We know every time our customer is burp, know when they are having a good day and having a bad day, what are we supposed to do with all this stuff?"
David Allison: And I guess what I'm excited about to answer your question is I'm sensing from the people we're talking to a fatigue around pointless data, around data for the sake of data, around data that confuses and conflates and causes things to just grind to a halt while you search for something in there and a hunger for data that actually is meaningful. And that it's based on, "Yes, I'm leading up to a plug for Valuegraphics." Is based on something that actually matters to people where we can build things and make decisions that are going to be welcomed because it's what people want and it's what they care about.
David Allison: So that's one thing that really excites me about what's going on in the field of marketing research right now. I guess the other one is even a bigger thing, and that's that we've all spent the last two and a half years locked up at home and we've had a lot of time to think about what's important. And so we've all been making decisions with our values which has become very apparent to large scale organizations around the world because we're all doing it at the same time.
David Allison: It's the largest sample ever. The entire planet is behaving in a way because of a stimulus. So everybody is finally sitting back and going, "Wow, we need to find a way to get to the intersection of purpose and profit. We need to be a purpose-led organization because that's what people want." And here's the secret, it's what people have always wanted. We've always made decisions based on our values. It's just so visible right now because we've all doing it at the same moment in time, and the path to that intersection.
David Allison: I always point up here for that intersection of path of profit and purpose, that path is a values-driven path. The only way to get there is with values data. Well, there is another way. The other way is you guess. You go, "I think our stakeholders are really into collaboration, community, diversity and what else? The chairman is really big on sustainability. Those are our values as an organization. Now quick, somebody order the little aluminum letters on pegs and put them behind the receptionist so that we all know what our values are."
David Allison: We good? We're good. Yep. There's one donut left. Who wants that one? And check, off we go. Now we can do that with a little bit more accuracy. Yeah. And that's hopeful. I go back to our vision, right? I want the world, that's why we give it away in the books and why we're doing things like this and why we did those questions and why do so much speaking. And it's just like everyone needs to stop using these stupid ways of looking at each other and instead, just start trying to figure out what really matters to people. Our values unite us. They bring us together. Right now, we need as much of that as we possibly can get.
Charlie Grinnell: Very well said, very well said. Okay, my last real hard question for you. How do you stay up to date on business and marketing? Who are you following? What are you reading? What are you listening to? And the reason why I ask this question just to give you some context is I never went to university. I went to university for a month and I dropped out, and a lot of my learning has been through reading, listening, watching.
Charlie Grinnell: I always ask people that I think are really smart who are they following? Who are they learning from? Who are they listening to reading and watching? Do you have any recent books that you've read other than your own? I guess you're busy writing books, but yeah.
David Allison: Well, if there were any smart people here, I'd ask them for you, but I don't see any around, but I'll tell you what I think. And that's yeah, I'm sure everybody gives you nice answers about publications and things, but I'm actually going to point you to a couple of humans that you should be paying attention to.
David Allison: One is a woman named Dr. Martha Rogers and anybody who's older than me or around my age, or maybe even a little younger than I am will remember a book that a duo wrote. They were named Peppers & Rogers is the name of these two. And Dr. Martha Rogers is the Rogers of the Peppers and Rogers marketing franchise if you will. They've written a whole slew of books, textbooks. They speak, they do all kinds of smart things. Dr. Martha is currently a professor at Duke and she's studying trust and trustability.
David Allison: It's fascinating, her basic premise is that in the absence of privacy which is something that horse has left the barn, we can all try and kick and scream about that as much as we want, but that horse has left the barn. So what's left? The only way that we can interact with organizations and corporations is if we trust them. So what is that? What does trust mean? How do you quantify, qualify, measure, map trust in a way that's not, again, some guys in donuts, in a boardroom going, "Well, they'll trust us if we do this."
David Allison: What's the science behind trust? It's fascinating stuff. So anything you can find that she's been working on. I'll tell you. She and her writing partner Don Peppers, Martha Rogers, their big book that brought them to international claim was a book called The One to One Future. And this was before there was an internet. They wrote a book that said, "In the future, you know what's going to happen? We're going to be able to understand individual customers, and then mass communicate with them based on individual things that we know about them."
David Allison: Everybody thought they were nuts and they basically predicted the internet, and the way marketing happens today. They're super smart. And Martha Rogers is I'm very blessed to know her. Every time I talk to her, my head explodes and I have to walk away for a while. She's actually writing the forward to my new book which is like, "Wow." So anything we can do to pay attention to her is a good thing.
David Allison: The other person is a entrepreneur, a founder, a CEO working in the AI space. Her name is Kate. And Kate has a company called Lately and Lately, if anybody wants to look it up, it's lately.ai or try lately.com. I think either one gets you there. Basically what she's done is licensed an AI brain from Microsoft and you stuff your long form content into their system. And it will chop it up for you and spit it back out whether it's video, audio or text, and it'll say, "Great, we just took your podcast. We chopped it up, and we found relevant clips, and we've put words over top of the video for you and we think it should be this long. And which ones do you want to put on LinkedIn? Which ones do you want to put on Facebook? Do you want some of these to be as tweets?"
David Allison: And you say this one, that one, this one, this one sends them all out. So for your evergreen layer, this makes a ton of sense because it's your words being used, not somebody you've hired to try and understand the way you would say something. It's your words. So she is so smart. The company is amazing, but the way she approaches business, the way she thinks about her own online strategy, her own online presence, her own, her fundraising, being a woman, tech founder is hard enough.
David Allison: Being a woman tech founder in the AI space. It's like the ultimate boys club and she's winning it. So she's an inspiration, not just to other women, but to all of us. It's just like, "Wow. The stuff that she's been able to accomplish with that firm is mind-blowing."
Charlie Grinnell: Well, I'm definitely going to have to look up those and everybody listening will have to check out them as well. Final question. Where's the best place for people to get ahold of you online? I'm sure there's going to be tons of questions coming out of this episode. So how can people get your ear?
David Allison: Well, I'm the shyest guy you've ever got.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. You're very quiet. You don't talk very much.
David Allison: So home base is LinkedIn I guess. I have a little bit of a presence on Twitter and Instagram, but primarily LinkedIn. And then of course, valuegraphics.com. If you want to buy the book, it's I think it's like 16 bucks or something on Amazon. You can choose amazon.ca.com.uk.jp. Whatever you are in the world. There's a digital version which is even less. I think it's like five or six bucks or something.
David Allison: That book's going to be replaced by the end of the year with the new one that is more or less the same, except that instead of just being focused on Canada and the US and the data sets for those two countries, it's the data sets for the entire planet. And the coolest part of the book I think is region by region nine regions of the world.
David Allison: We compare what everybody in that part of the world cares about compared to the next part, so it's like a world tour of what people care about all over the planet, and it's fun. The couple people who've read it so far have said that it's a book they can't put down, that it's like, as you can tell, I like to tell stories. So it's full of stories, it's not a boring book about data. I couldn't think of the worst thing to do is inflict another boring book about business on the world. So I made it fun, made it fun.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, I can't wait to check it out David. Thank you very much for your time today. It was really great chatting with you and we'll have to have you on for another episode again soon.
David Allison: Thanks for having me over. I'm happy to. Anytime, anytime. Thanks Charlie.
Charlie Grinnell: For show notes, other episodes and more content, check out, rightmetric.co. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening.
Make your digital strategy bulletproof.
Get insights like these, customized for your audience and competitors.Learn about Research-AS-A-SERVICE →