Defining a new way of thinking about people


The premise of market research is vested in commercial thought. It explores the value of a product, service, brand or organisation and asks the research participant (respondent) for input about a research topic on measures such as awareness, appeal, association, affinity, novelty and propensity to engage.

The answers provided are categorised into cohorts of population identifiers, which have been used for many decades. These are commonly referred to as observable classification methods or demographic variables such as gender, age, race and sometimes location, affluence, occupation, living standards and so forth. In recent years, these classification methods were refined into smaller cohorts to include diversity or minority group studies.

The two sides of the research equation – product, service, brand or organisation on the one hand and people classification on the other – are brought together, evaluated and analysed. Predefined population classification structures aim to illustrate where there are correlating trends, positive or not. Insights are developed from the correlating trends to identify and develop market opportunities.

All is well, or is it?

Combatting discrimination based on everything from sexual orientation to beliefs, and acknowledging diversity are imperative, also in research. However, this could inadvertently fragment the over-used gender, age and race classifications into smaller niche markets, losing the overall picture of who we are: people.

What are the behavioural inclinations over and above these layers of demographic classifications that we’ve grown to appreciate and represent?

Demographic classification methods are rooted in the early development sciences, which in turn were mostly driven by natural sciences. These sciences make sense of the environment by classifying objects or items into distinctive groups and analysing the differences between them. In terms of people, most of market research practices have done the same.

There are many references to the development of human traits or behavioural classification methods dating back to 500BC. Hippocrates (c.370BC) had four classifications: Blood (cheerful), Black bile (sombre), Yellow bile (enthusiastic) and Phlegm (calm). The use of bodily fluids to illustrate behaviour is perhaps best left for another conversation.

More recently, experiments in the early twentieth century, through the work of especially Floyd Henry Allport who is considered the father of experimental social psychology, developed several “lab” tests to determine behavioural traits (see FH Allport’s Social Psychology, 1924).

Allport’s work demonstrated, for the first time, that there is a link between what was considered the separate disciplines of psychology and sociology at that stage. Allport converged these disciplines into the now well-known field of Social Psychology. The main vantage point is that human behaviour is an outcome of contextual interpretations about the outside world, based on attitude and cognitive anchor points developed through peers and social circles. The combination of these factors converged into expressions of habitual behaviour.

Developed from this theoretical praxis over several years, Tx5® now enriches pre-defined demographic classifications by superimposing behavioural patterns as a primary lens through which to observe people. The identified behavioural clusters proved one very important point:

Behavioural patterns cut across age, race, and gender classifications. In other words, the demographic classifications we have been using for many decades in market and social research studies separated groups that share common behavioural patterns

As a research specialist for most of my professional life, this finding was “a dream come true” moment. Living in a society that has been trying to make sense of the effects of state-sponsored, institutionalised, systemic and systematic racism in the form of Apartheid, for almost three decades, Tx5® has opened a new way of looking at people through a lens that disregards what lies skin-deep.

In an increasingly dynamic and changing world, this finding also leads to interesting and new questions:

  • To what extent do we, or should we, acknowledge diverse demographic cohorts when we share common behavioural patterns, irrespective of demographics?
  • How can disadvantaged or under-privileged groups be empowered when they share common behavioural patterns with privileged groups?
  • How can demographic classifications be enriched if behaviour is used as a meta-lens?

Tx5® provides a whole new world of opportunities for both commercial and social research practices

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