As anyone watching the latest herd of hapless halfwits negotiate their way around the BBC’s The Apprentice will know, you ignore the market research at your peril. Week after week they go out there, ask members of the public what they think of whatever half-baked idea they have put on the table, get told in no uncertain terms what said members of the public think only to ignore the findings and press on regardless. Invariably, they come unstuck. Proof that market research is an invaluable tool for any business? Perhaps.
It is, of course, useful to know a certain amount about your target market. Invaluable even, in terms of “How likely are you to buy ‘x’?” But in the past few decades, market research seems to have evolved beyond this remit into realms that reached their apotheosis this week in the YouGov Profiler web app, which allows us all to type in stuff we might have a passing interest in, and peruse the crunched data of 190,000 active YouGov panellists.
So we can all now access, for example, the fascinating fact that people with right-wing political beliefs have a penchant for sweetcorn, while people with left-wing views prefer broccoli. Oh brave new world.
“With [these] profiles, we now have a giant range of in-depth, up-to-the-moment connected data that is reliable,” says YouGov honcho Stephan Shakespeare. “By using the data variables we have from our panellists we can now construct a three-dimensional portrait of who they are, how they behave and what drives the way they act.”
So who am I? How do I behave? And what drives the way I act? Let’s use the Profiler to crunch one of the few indisputable facts of my life: I support Arsenal. What’s this? Apparently, I am female, aged 18-24 and live in London. Oh well. One out of three’s not bad. But before you go dismissing the idea completely, the YouGov people are keen to point out that these profiles don’t show the “typical person”, rather they purport to show what is “particularly true” about a group. And I’ll explain to you what that means just as soon as I hear back from a professor of semantics.
Readers of The Independent? You are male, aged 18-24 and work in the media. You eat antipasti, braised endive and gambas al ajillo (well done you, I’m not even sure what these are). Your favourite clothing brand is Wool Overs (again, search me) and you are likely to shop for food at Waitrose (possibly true). You listen to Pete Seeger and Pulp, you watch Question Time and your favourite celebrity is Krishnan Guru-Murthy. And so on and so forth…
What all this tells us about our target market, I have absolutely no idea, but as we speak, the Independent Print Media group’s own marketing wallas are clicking through the findings to see where they can add new layers of information to their own findings.
Be warned, though: those 50-plus hours per week the Profiler states that Independent readers currently spend online might become a redundant statistic once you start randomly typing things in to its search bar. For top fun, type in a few random letters and see where things go: you will soon be transported to a wonderful world where you will discover that people who like cucumber and onion salad are most likely to be customers of Michelin and fans of T’Pau.
It is a world of dots being joined while the big picture becomes no clearer. Which is, perhaps, an apposite description of marketing research in general. Because isn’t the truth about human beings that we are infinitely variable. And if that is true, then any attempt to tie us together by the cultural details that unite us is, surely, ultimately futile. That way madness lies. Better to while away the hours looking at the profile of a typical Cliff Richard fan.
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