VALS: sophisticated way to entice consumers
Menlo Park, Calif.
''Raise your hand if you agree that what you do at work is more important than the money you earn. ''Raise your hand if you agree there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations.Skip to next paragraph
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''Raise your hand if you disagree that women should take care of their homes and leave the running of the nation to men.''
It was a rainy autumn night when Gloria Esdale McConnell of SRI International put these questions to members of the local community who packed the small auditorium at this scientific think tank. Despite the inclement weather, they had turned out in large numbers for an open meeting called ''Changing Values and Lifestyles of American Communities.''
''If you raised your hand to all three of these questions, you probably fall into a group which we call the Societally Conscious,'' continued Ms. McConnell, director of SRI's Values and Lifestyles (VALS) program, an approach to market research that is enjoying considerable success on Madison Avenue.
Essentially, VALS divides the United States public into nine groups, which vary not just in demographics (age, income, education, marital status, etc.) but also in basic values.
''Societally Conscious'' is the VALS name for one of these groups. It is part of a unique vocabulary, dubbed VAL-speak, that reflects a new and increasingly popular framework for trying to understand the effects of social trends in the United States.
Today VALS is a $2 million-a-year operation. Its client list reads like a Who's Who of corporate America. Its concepts lie behind some of the most successful ad campaigns of the last year or two. In 1983 a survey of marketing managers named it among the 10 most significant market-research breakthroughs of all time.
But up to five years ago it was just a modest in-house project.
In the late 1950s, Arnold Mitchell, an SRI marketing analyst, realized that an increasing number of people did not fit neatly into the old stereotypes. In 1960 Mr. Mitchell and two colleagues published a report suggesting that people's values influence their spending patterns. During the late '60s and early '70s he produced a number of reports that attempted to predict how the children of the ' 60s would affect consumer markets.
Through the 1970s, market research was dominated by demographics. Analysts divided consumers by such quantitative measures as age, income, amount of education, and marital status. But researchers became increasingly disenchanted with this approach. A number began experimenting with ''psychographics,'' the attempt to classify people into psychological groupings. VALS has emerged as the most popular method of this new approach.
''VALS,'' explains SRI's Teresa Kersten, ''classifies people into nine life-style groups: People are different, but in fundamental ways.''
A given individual may embody characteristics of more than one group. Also, at various stages in their lives, people may fall into different categories. But when you look at the population in the aggregate, it divides cleanly into these ''constellations of values,'' she maintains.
The VALS typology draws heavily on the thinking of psychologist Abraham Maslow and sociologist David Riesman. It divides the adult population into three broad categories - Need-driven, Outer-directed, and Inner-directed - each of which is further subdivided.
The Need-driven (11 percent of the public) are those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, the economically insecure. The actions of the Outer-directed ( 68 percent of the public) are driven by how other people think about them: Possessions, social standing, and traditional institutions are important to them. Inner-directeds (19 percent and growing) are a post-World War II category: Inner growth, aesthetics, and a simple but rich life style are distinguishing characteristics. Each of these groups is further sub-divided.