Geek looking at data


From Hockeyville To Stilettos & Sneakers: The Art Of Naming Lifestyles

Apr 13, 2011, 12:51 PM by Michael J. Weiss
By Michael J. Weiss, Vice President of Marketing, Environics Analytics

Call it Lifestyle Nomenclature—the art (and occasional science) of naming consumer segments and target groups. Any business involved in classifying people into lifestyle types and target groups needs to come up with descriptive nicknames for them. Great segment names—monikers that are evocative, memorable, succinct and clever—are one reason why marketing analytics has captured the imagination of marketers and sociologists alike. Are your customers upscale suburban families? In the PRIZM C2 system, they’re known as Pets & PCs. Young urban singles and couples? Electric Avenues. Of course, we could have taken the easy route and just labeled them Type 1 or Number 42, but where’s the fun in that? After all, those creative types in advertising and branding deserve nothing less.

Developing a winning segment name starts with the basics: the demographic, psychographic or behavioural characteristics that are important to the client. If the client sells consumer electronics, for example, segment names could reflect household size and tech acceptance, because they are two of the major drivers of electronics purchases. Then for every target group, analysts compile a fat Excel workbook with survey results, market research and census data. Throw in a dash of imagination and a few pop culture references, and you get names like You & I Tunes (singles and couples outfitted with the latest mobile devices), Plugged-In Families (large families with all manner of audio-video gadgets) and Dial-Up Duos (mature couples content with their slow Internet connections).

For a financial services client, lifestage and affluence are key factors, so segment names like Fiscal Rookies, Prosperous Parents and Retiree Chic could be appropriate. Some years ago, I worked on a project for a credit card company that wanted nicknames reflecting only customer behaviour in the marketplace. Among the winners: Markdown Mavens, Mall-Landia and—for a particular breed of Manhattan fashionista who walked to work in Nikes carrying her Manolo Blahniks in her Coach bag—Stilettos & Sneakers.

Naming lifestyle types dates to the 1970s when a U.S. company, Claritas (now part of Nielsen), developed the first geodemographic segmentation system called PRIZM (Potential Rating Index of Zip Markets). The job of naming those first 40 segments fell to a man named Robin Page, a former Coca-Cola adman from Atlanta, who many consider the godfather of lifestyle naming. Robin was a lifestyle unto himself: smart, funny, charming, with a geeky interest in cosmology. He gave the world such enduring cluster names as Blue Blood Estates, Bohemian Mix, Money & Brains and—perhaps the most famous of American names—Shotguns & Pickups. At one time, in the 1990s, he was responsible for all the cluster names for the most popular segmentation system in Canada, PSYTE, as well as the three largest segmentation systems in the US—a feat comparable to one person naming every car model produced by Detroit’s Big Three automakers. For the first PRIZM, Kids & Cul-de-Sacs was among his classic creations; for US MOSAIC, Country Clubbers perfectly captured the life of upscale duffers; and for PSYTE USA, he came up with Gerberville, where legions of babies dominated the lifestyle landscape.

How popular were Robin’s early PRIZM names? In 1986, less than a decade after he first coined them, one of his creations, Pools & Patios, became part of the dialogue in a Sidney Lumet movie, “Power,” about a political consultant played by Richard Gere. Then again, Robin often skirted the boundaries of political correctness. He once proposed the name Rednecks & Gunracks for a Southern-based lifestyle type, arguing, “Well, these people call themselves ‘redneck’ and are proud of the term.” Fortunately, he was persuaded to do otherwise.

But the episode is a good reminder that segment names are not created in a vacuum. Behind the names are real, breathing people—some who may not always appreciate a clever bit of wordplay. When I was researching my first book, The Clustering of America, in 1988, I visited the town of Columbia City, Indiana, to interview residents typical of a lifestyle type called Coalburg & Corntown (small-town families who work in factories and farms). The local newspaper had published a story about my visit, and the mayor told me that a resident wanted to meet me—obviously a fan seeking an autograph, I thought. After driving for miles on dirt roads to an isolated farm, I met my “fan”: an elderly farm wife who dressed me down for tagging her with what she considered an insulting cluster classification. “Who the hell do you think you are, calling us Coalburg & Corntown?” she declared. “We’re not hicks.” My explanation for the name’s origins did little to appease her and I slunk away red-faced. When the segment name was retired after the next census, I was more than a little relieved.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to help name the lifestyle types of more than a dozen segmentation systems and target groups for scores of client projects at Environics Analytics. But I must confess that I don’t develop these names alone. In addition to reviewing empirical data, I devour everything related to contemporary culture, from cable TV programs to supermarket tabloids. If you find all the magazines in the pocket of your airline seat ripped to shreds, it’s a good bet I was there, collecting ads and articles for inspiration. McMansion Elite, Twilight Years and Yuptowns all came from what I call mile-high research.

I must also give credit to several friends and colleagues who offer naming gems borne of brainstorming and free-association. Christine Bruns, a management consultant and editor, has crafted such appellations as Salsa & the City, Boomers & Boomerangs and School Daze. At Environics Analytics, coworkers regularly drop segment names. It bugs me to no end that my favourite name in the PRIZM C2 system, Lunch at Tim’s, is not one of my creations. It was the brainchild of EA president Jan Kestle, who admittedly knows her way around this lifestyle nomenclature business.

My file of potential lifestyle names has grown over the years and currently numbers over 3,950. Many are simply variations on a theme (Kids & Careers, Kids & Commuters), and some have been roundly rejected, including a personal favourite, Movers & Shakespeares, which I imagine to be a segment of young liberal arts graduates who move frequently—or perhaps heavy-hitter CEOs with advanced degrees in English literature. One day, I figure, a company will call needing a name for a segment of club-store shoppers (Families in Bulk), café habitués (Berets & Baguettes) or obsessive video uploaders (YouTubers). And on that day, I will be ready.


—Michael J. Weiss