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|When I worked in DC, there was a popular saying to the
effect that you can tell where someone lives by the junk mail they receive.
It's very true, and not just because the recipient's address is on the
envelope. When a company plans an advertising campaign, the company's
planners have to determine the most effective places to put those ads. If
ad firms to determine to whom you should show specific ads, and you can use
existing address and magazine subscription lists to pick out individuals to
whom you should send direct mail. But what do you do if you want to blanket
an entire Zip code full of potential customers with your mailings or calls?
You turn to clusters.
According to Michael J. Weiss, the author of The Clustered World, clusters are quite simply neighborhood types. If you know the neighborhood in which someone lives, as defined by their postal code (called a Zip code in the U.S.), you can make some pretty good guesses about that person. For example, you can guess their income within a reasonable range, their age, and their interests.
I visited the Time Warner web site (which you can find in the bibliographic listing at the beginning of this review), and, on the page for The Clustered World, saw a link to the You Are Where You Live database from Claritas, a demographic data provider. I popped in my Zip code and found that my section of Portland, Oregon, is home to five types of households:
A quick read of the names, which are consistent across several demographic analysis firms, accurately describe the vast majority of folks who live in my neighborhood, with Urban Achievers being the predominant cluster. The number reflects the relative prosperity of the group within the 62 clusters in the U.S.
Part of the joy of reading this book for me was in discovering the cluster names, from Blue Blood Estates and Urban Gold Coast at the top to Grain Belt and Hard Scrabble toward the bottom, though I gained valuable insights into how the clustering system is configured, but the majority of the book is devoted to describing the proclivities of each cluster. In fact, the last 124 pages are two-page descriptions of the 62 clusters. What's missing from what is admittedly a mass-market book was a description of the process for determining which neighborhoods were included in which groups.
I got a lot out of The Clustered World, both as an introduction to the practice of clustering and as a collection of valuable insights into how marketers divide up the world, but I would have appreciated quite a bit more detail on the art and science of clustering. Despite that reservation, I recommend Weiss's book to anyone interested in how advertisers use demographic data to customize and target their messages.
Curtis D. Frye (email@example.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is also the author of three online courses and ten books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.