Monday, January 28, 2008

You are your psychographic profile

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a lovely place to live, but historically has not been much of a shopping mecca. In the five and a half years I've lived here, however, the number of upscale national retail establishments that have come to town have grown greatly. This has been a boon food-wise: Trader Joe's! Whole Foods! Housewares-wise: Crate and Barrel! And, increasingly, clothing-wise. Most recently, the city has welcomed the jointly owned Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. Did you know that Anthropologie is supposed to be where grown up Outfitters head when they begin to feel a tad too mature (read: old) for Urban's hipster-wear? I didn't know the two companies were related until I fell under the Anthropologie sway and, as a good little academic and cultural omnivore, had to know more about the magical place and did some research.

That's when I found this amazing article about Anthropologie's corporate philosophy. As I read this, much as when I visited the store itself, I felt a swell of excitement and recognition: they know me! They like me! They want me to have clothes and housewares that speak to me! That I love! I also felt pretty embarrassed. Having a corporation place you so blatantly in their sights, pegging you with their psychographic babble, is more than a little creepy:
Ask anyone at Anthropologie who that customer is, and they can rattle off a demographic profile: 30 to 45 years old, college or post-graduate education, married with kids or in a committed relationship, professional or ex-professional, annual household income of $150,000 to $200,000. But those dry matters of fact don't suffice to flesh out the living, breathing woman most Anthropologists call "our friend." Senk, 46, says, "I like to describe her in psychographic terms. She's well-read and well-traveled. She is very aware -- she gets our references, whether it's to a town in Europe or to a book or a movie. She's urban minded. She's into cooking, gardening, and wine. She has a natural curiosity about the world. She's relatively fit."

While most retailers today are obsessed with the highly lucrative and populous "tween" (preteen and young teen) and boomer markets, Anthropologie has cultivated an understanding of and connection to the ultimate tweener: the thirtysomething sophisticate, once known as a Gen-Xer, who has carried her mildly rebellious, against-the-grain independence into a serious career and family life. She's defined less by static qualities and more by a set of dynamic tensions. If the tween anthem is Britney Spears's "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," the Anthropologie customer's plaint is more Alanis Morissette: "I've got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is giving the peace sign." Translation: "I can't pick up my children or sit through a meeting in low-rise jeans, but I'm not nearly ready for an elastic waistband."

The Anthropologie customer is affluent but not materialistic. She's focused on building a nest but hankers for exotic travel. (She can picture herself roughing it with a backpack and Eurail pass -- as long as there is a massage and room service at end of the trek.) She'd like to be a domestic goddess but has no problem cutting corners (she prefers the luscious excess of British cooking sensation Nigella Lawson to the measured perfection of Martha Stewart). She's in tune with trends, but she's a confident individualist when it comes to style. She lives in the suburbs but would never consider herself a suburbanite. (This is where Senk's kinship to his customer is most apparent. He had lived in cities all over the world -- London, San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia -- before settling in an elegant turn-of-the-century house in the Philadelphia garden suburb of Chestnut Hill with his partner, Anthropologie antiques buyer Keith Johnson. Says Senk: "We're city people -- we'd never dreamed of moving to the suburbs. But Chestnut Hill is sophisticated. It's like a suburb in the city.")

The Anthropologie woman is not so much conflicted as she is resistant to categorization. Her identity is a tangle of connections to activities, places, interests, values, and aspirations. She's not married with two kids: She's a yoga-practicing filmmaker with an organic garden, a collection of antique musical instruments, and an abiding interest in Chinese culture (plus a husband and two kids). It's no coincidence that Julia Roberts is the celebrity avatar of Anthropologie. Not only is she a frequent shopper (along with many of Hollywood's strongest-minded women, including Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, and Madonna), but her bohemian-chic wardrobe in The Mexican was Anthropologie sourced.

The big problem here is that the household income thing is a bit off, so I can covet like crazy but can never really become the Anthropologie woman so irritatingly described here. I'm sure they're happy to have aspirational consumers like me, too, who may buy from time to time even if they can't commit to regular purchases. And I can always make a slightly more affordable purchase at Urban, right? Wouldn't that be part of the psychographics, too? "She's happy to pick up an item or two at her younger sib's store, when it suits her casual-day whimsy."

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