“four man with one woman on bech” by Matthew Gerrard on Unsplash

What Are Valuegraphics and Why Do They Matter?

The following is adapted from We Are All the Same Age Now, a book about Valuegraphics and the end of demographic stereotypes by David Allison.

When you want to predict the buying behavior of a target audience, what information do you look for?

If you’re like most people, your first port of call is to check out the demographics of that target audience. Age, sex, socioeconomic status. These are the categories into which we think the world is divided. You need to target baby boomers differently from millennials, right? Everyone knows that.

Unfortunately, in this case, everyone is wrong.

We’ve now reached a point in history when people no longer act their age. You can marry someone for the first time and simultaneously start a third career while in your seventies. You might also be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company before your thirtieth birthday, decide to remain single, and adopt three kids from three different Eastern European countries.

I happened on what would become Valuegraphics when I noticed this new agelessness changing the world around me and commissioned a study to prove a hunch. I hoped to prove that using age to predict how people would behave didn’t really make sense anymore.

I also wanted to see if we could find a more contemporary and accurate way to profile target audiences. Age as a profiling tool is an idea well past its best-before date, as far as I’m concerned. It’s time to take age out of the back of the metaphorical refrigerator and toss it in the rubbish heap of history.

Good news. We found the proof we were looking for, that age is a lousy way to predict what anyone is going to do. So that worked out. And we also built a system to profile target audiences based on what people value. So that means we are two for two.

Now, as much as I’d like to claim it as mine, the idea that what we value determines what we do is nothing new. Psychologists, sociologists, and consumer behavior experts have studied this from every conceivable angle for a long time. We know it’s true.

The problem has always been that there wasn’t an accurate way to profile the values of an entire target audience. To profile an entire audience on a national or even a merely regional scale, you’d need a gigantic amount of data, or any profile you came up with would only be marginally better than a guess.

Goodbye Linear Surveys, Hello Algorithmic Data

You’ve probably answered a lot of surveys that ask you to fill out your age, income, and a few other details, before requesting that you answer a few simple questions.

You know the answers you give will be used to categorize you and aim marketing campaigns at you and other people who fit the same profile.

Valuegraphics require a lot more data. Exponentially more. No one built that enormous database before now because it would have been insanely complex and expensive. Most of the cost would have been from finding enough people to fill out surveys to make a database statistically large enough to be accurate.

Thankfully, that’s changing. Until now, finding qualified survey respondents has always been about teams of people with clipboards inefficiently accosting random passersby in shopping malls.

Or call centers full of bored telemarketers phoning people at home precisely when dinner is served until they find enough folks who are willing to let their roast beef or buttered chicken go cold while they answer questions that “won’t take more than a few moments of your time.”

More recently, it’s become possible to carpet-bomb emails to lists of people sourced from various places with only a micro-percentage of those surveys ever filled out and sent back in. All that failure to find qualified participants costs a lot of money and takes a lot of people a lot of time.

But today, enormous social media companies keep whole buildings full of the smartest and best-paid scientists on the planet who do nothing but develop algorithms to help advertisers precisely target their messages. This is a key point because it turns out those algorithms are equally as handy for finding survey respondents who fit precise qualifications for a study.

Thanks to those algorithms, instead of an entire team, I was able to work with only one researcher to recruit 75,000 qualified survey respondents and save uncounted millions of dollars and years of work. How much time and money we saved will never be known for certain, but regardless, let’s have a big round of applause for our new friend, algorithmic technology. Thanks to those algorithms, age is out, and values are in.

It’s difficult to show you the exact surveys because we harnessed the power of the internet to create surveys that weren’t linear. Each one adapted to each respondent’s previous answer. This made them quite unlike the rigid surveys used to collect demographic information.

If someone answered yes to the first question, they’d see a second question that varied depending on several factors. Depending on how they answered that question, they might see any one of three or four follow-up questions, or possibly a question about something entirely different. And on and on it went, up to a total potential of 340 questions, depending on how you answered.

To complicate matters further, there were ten surveys organized by various themes around the forty values we were interested in knowing more about. If you tried to draw one of these surveys on a piece of paper, it would look like an elaborate spiderweb, but in 3-D. So there’s really no way to show you even a single survey, let alone all ten, until articles like this one become capable of showing more than two dimensions.

Suffice to say, however, that these surveys gave us what no two-dimensional linear survey ever could. An understanding of the values of the respondent.

Why is this important? Simply, because using a huge range of variables to understand people’s values gives us a far more accurate picture of what they care about than a traditional linear survey. When we understand what large groups of people care about, we understand how to motivate them.

If you want to connect with your target audience, influence them, serve them, or sell to them, you need to know what matters to them.

That’s why you need to understand Valuegraphics.

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For more information and advice about Valuegraphics and why they matter, you can find We Are All the Same Age Now on Amazon.

David Allison is the author of We Are All the Same Age Now. He began working in advertising agencies in 1985 and helped motivate audiences for some of the world’s largest brands. Today, his company creates custom Valuegraphics Profiles from the ever-evolving Valuegraphics Database, and consults with organizations who are interested in the full scope of what Valuegraphics can tell them about audiences they want to motivate.