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A Map is Not the World

[Image from 41,000 Faces - Breast Cancer Care]

“If you put the pictures of two different faces side by side, your eye is struck by everything that makes one different from the other. But if you have two hundred and twenty-three faces side by side, you suddenly realize that it’s all just one face in many variations and that no such thing as an individual ever existed”
Agnes in Immortality, Milan Kundera

I've always had a problem with segmentation. I think it's for the same reason that I don't believe in horoscopes - since I'm a gemini [could you tell?] and the predictions for that sign apply to all geminis, I would have to infer that 1/12 of all the people in the world are, basically, the same as me in temperament and that the vagaries of fate will be treating us in the same way.

This is clearly rubbish, I would tell myself, the world is much more complex than that and, anyway, I'm an INDIVIDUAL, as unique as a snowflake.

Tyler Durden disabuses his alter ego of this notion in Fight Club:

You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

But other, less aggressive, facilitators of enlightenment have made much the same point. We think of ourselves as individuals because we look for the differences. We ignore the similarities, which are far, far greater than the differences.

To put it simply, every single person in the world is more alike than we all are to a tree or a goat or anything else that isn't a person. Taken from a macro viewpoint, it's all just one face in many variations.

That said, I still have some problems with segmentation. Too often segments lapse into stereotypes and neglect to emphasise the fact that we are talking about average behaviours, not absolute behaviours.

My mate Gareth sent me this leaked segmentation report from Phones4U and as he pointed out, as well as being hilarious and slightly offensive, it also implicitly suggests that every iPod Babe is into "Fuck Buddy Sex".

My other problem with segmentation like this is that it aggregates individual tendencies into groups. As Critical Mass points out, this simply isn't a realistic way to model behaviour:

"Individual tendencies do not necessarily extrapolate to group behaviour"

Interaction between agents changes the game completely, which is why scientists developed agent based models to examine the emergent properties of large groups of individuals interacting.

So even if all iPod Babes are exactly the same, all the time, which they aren't, throw a few of them together and all bets are off.

This completely disrupts the notion of Homo Economicus - the rational man [or babe] that makes economic decisions designed to maximise personal utility. Behavioural economics suggests that purchase decisions are influenced by group dynamics and recent experiments have shown this to be true in controlled conditions.

So where does that leave the iPod Babes? Understanding that different people have different drivers and motivators is undoubtedly a sensible thing for a marketer to explore, but there is infinite variation within the average and interaction within the groups.

Segmentation is a map of the populace but, like any map, it's important not mistake it for the world.