Market Intelligence Takes Detective Work: Jeep Case Study

How To
Pamela Danziger
September 5, 2018

Market intelligence refers to the complete understanding of a marketplace.  Digital market intelligence, for example, offers a complete view of digital behavior – covering every aspect of Internet and app activity, including “hard to see” digital behavior such as what happens on your competitors’ sites, or search/conversion activity on Amazon.

Psychographic segmentation systems aim to provide a complete understanding of the mindsets in a consumer marketplace.  One of the pioneering psychographic efforts is the VALS segmentation – built on values, attitudes and lifestyles – produced by Strategic Business Insights (formerly known as the Stanford Research Institute and SRI International).  Developed in the late 1970s and refined over time, this segmentation is widely used today. 

In this post, luxury expert Pamela Danziger of Unity Marketing interviewed SBI’s Patricia Breman to explore how a psychographic segmentation allows brands such as Jeep to connect with consumers in a more customized and data-driven manner.  Borrowing a framework from crime solving, psychographics provide market intelligence about the means, motives and opportunities for consumers to purchase brands.


Market Intelligence Takes Detective Work: Jeep Case Study

By Pamela Danziger


Maybe because I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries – I read the entire series available till I was about 12 – then graduating to Sherlock Holmes – “‘Data! Data! Data!’ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’” —  but it doesn’t take a Sherlock to deduce that my early preference in fiction profoundly influenced my choice in profession: market research.

As a market researcher, I’m just about the closest thing you can get to it, without having to deal with the blood, gore and guts of real detective work. That’s because at its core, the detective’s and the marketer’s role share three critical perspectives:

Means, identify who has the means to do the crime or make the purchase, specifically demographics;

Opportunity, discover who had the opportunity to commit the crime or need and inclination to make the purchase, i.e. past purchase behavior;

Motive, and most importantly, who has a reason to do the crime or make the buy, in marketing parlance, consumer psychographics.


As marketers, it’s our job to understand the customers and the best potential customers. That takes detective work which means we have to uncover who has the means, opportunity and motive to buy our goods and services.

Among the commercially available tools that combine those three critical market research perspectives – Demographics, Purchase Behavior and Psychographics – is VALS from Strategic Business Insights (SBI)

Based upon a scientific study of consumers, SBI has identified 8 distinctive VALS types that combine these perspectives that determine how an individual will express himself or herself as a consumer.

In my work, I have found that their means and opportunity to purchase change over time. People get older year-after-year and their incomes are likely to change too, and not always going up. Their purchase behavior can change on a dime, as new shopping resources shift and personal needs dictate. For example, my husband and I didn’t plan on buying a new car this week, but an accident that totaled our old car necessitated a purchase and quick.

But while means and opportunity can change on a dime, a person’s underlying motivations as a consumer, how they look at the world, interpret it and align their consumer decisions, may evolve over time but endure 10 to 15 years or longer.

That insight is the value of VALS. It takes into account all three perspectives (ideals, achievement, self-expression), but places extra weight on the motivational factor and psychological makeup of individuals to help predict their purchase preferences. SBI writes, “A person’s tendency to consume goods and services extends beyond age, income, and education. Energy, self-confidence, intellectualism, novelty seeking, innovativeness, impulsiveness, leadership, and vanity play a critical role.”

And no where in marketing are those motivational perspectives so important as in branding. Brands have to capture the attention of the target customer viscerally by talking to the underlying personality and values of the individual.

In the automotive market, the Mercedes Benz S-class vehicle is intended for one type of person and the Mini-Cooper for another, but both are products of the same company. GM creates the Cadillac Escalade for one customer and the Chevy Tahoe for another. And the Jeep Grand Cherokee is for a specific customer and the Jeep Wrangler another. Each brand tells distinctly different stories to hook the person for whom that brand is designed.

SBI’s Patricia Breman, senior consultant, recently did a deep dive into the psychological makeup of the Jeep brands and the VALS types for which each is intended. She shared her findings with me.


Case study of Jeep’s family of brands

Unlike Mercedes or GM which are much broader based companies with a wider range of brands, all  Jeep brands share a common DNA: authenticity. Jeep is the car that won World War II, or at the very least ferried the generals and officers who won that war. It’s been on every battle field since and had a starring role in war movies and television series that drove it full speed ahead into the popular culture.

Jeep is as American as apple pie. It is rugged, reliable, resilient and dependable. It gets the job done. Jeep is a brand that proudly waves that flag.

All the models in the Jeep portfolio share that DNA:

  • Jeep Cherokee – Starting at $24,000 – SUV
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee – $30,000 – Luxury SUV
  • Jeep Compass – $21,000 – Compact SUV
  • Jeep Renegade – $18,000 – Compact SUV
  • Jeep Wrangler – $24,000 – Classic and most popular
  • Jeep Wrangler Unlimited – $28,000 – Luxury Classic

Today the brand is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. A recent report from reveals that Wrangler sales have grown from almost 81,000 vehicles in 1997 to roughly 191,000 vehicles in 2017. Jeep sales in the first five months of 2018 (more than 110,000 vehicles) are outpacing sales during the first five months of 2015—the landmark year for total units sold (almost 203,000 vehicles).


Who is buying all those Jeeps?

When it comes to car buying in general, and Jeep brands in particular, Breman says you only need to look to three VALS’ types.

”When it comes to vehicles, it is down to the point where only three groups that are buying anything: Thinkers, Achievers and Innovators. What they are buying is different, but they are the only ones that can afford anything these days. Experiencers have the interest, they just don’t yet have the money. But the other three groups do.”

In addition, while Believers may own a Jeep, because of limited resources, they are more likely to own an older model, not be in the running to buy a new car.

What they all share – Thinkers, Achievers and Innovators – is average income over $100,000, what I define as HENRYs (High-Earners-Not-Rich-Yet) with incomes ahead of 75% of all American households. Experiencers, on the other hand, may report high household income, but because of their age, they are more likely to be reporting the HHI of their parent’s not themselves. “Many Experiencers are still living in their parent’s basement,” Breman shares.

Market Intelligence: Jeep Owners by VALS Segments

For all , the appeal of Jeep is that it isn’t a run-of-the-mill or cookie-cutter SUV. Jeeps have a distinctive look. Jeep offered authentic sport utility vehicles before anyone heard the term SUV.

“It is not their parent’s SUV. Some people want to be distinctive and don’t have a lot of options to do so especially if they are constrained by money,” Breman says, and adds, “These cars are very distinctive without being weird. Jeep isn’t weird looking. It is authentic.”


Thinkers want reliability

Of all the VALS types, Thinkers have the highest level of Jeep ownership. Thinkers are attracted to brands like Jeep that are safe and conservative, practical and durable and responsible. “They run all the numbers. They do all the research. They can tell you more about a vehicle than the sales person on the floor at the dealership,” Breman explains. “They may not be buying the Wrangler, and may gravitate toward more expensive Cherokee models—think Wrangler for mature adults. The history of the brand is attractive to Thinkers. Jeep’s decades-long track record proves the brand’s durability and reliability. ”

What is interesting in the data, however, is that there is a gap between Thinker ownership (26%) and Thinker willingness to buy a Jeep (12%). Given their propensity to delve into the data before making a purchase, Thinkers may be finding the newer Jeep models aren’t measuring up or that other brands such as Subaru fill the safety and reliability niche’ better. This can have implications for how Jeep is presenting itself to the Thinker audience. For Thinkers, marketing that focuses on quality, reliability and longevity is called for, rather than marketing with a more lifestyle focus.


Achievers want to show

“Achievers have a ‘me-first, my family-first attitude.” Breman says. These consumers are likely to have children, and will look to Jeep Grand Cherokee model to do the hauling. On the other hand, they might buy a Wrangler as their teenager’s car. “Typically they see money as defining success. So they might own a luxury car and a Jeep as well, because Jeep isn’t necessarily a ‘prestige’ brand. But it has badge value that communicates a strong message about who they are: hard working, like their Jeep.”


Innovators want authenticity

Of the VALS types, Innovators have the highest incomes. More importantly, Innovators are confident enough to experiment; they tend to view advertising with skepticism. For them, they want the real deal. “Innovators are number one into authenticity,” Breman says. “They are also into experiences, but not the typical tourist experience like a cruise or tour to Europe. They want different experiences, like a trip up the Amazon or to go hiking in the Himalayas. Jeep’s off-roading capability can be a turn on.”

Innovators are independent by nature. The Wrangler or its Unlimited big brother will have appeal to Innovators who don’t want to run with the pack, but chart their own course.


Experiencers can’t wait

Experiencers have the greatest aspiration for the Jeep brand among all the VALS types, with 18% saying they would buy a Jeep. But as of yet, most Experiencers haven’t yet fulfilled that aspiration. “As the youngest of the types, Experiencers are dynamic, always on the go. They want the Jeep experience, but for most, their incomes haven’t caught up to their appetites,” Breman explains.

Experiencers want to find their own path. “Jeep pretty much says I am an independent person. Plus Jeep has the macho factor going for it, with a don’t-mess-with-me-look to its grill,” she continues.

While the Wrangler is picture perfect for Experiencers, because of their modest incomes, they may lean toward Jeep’s entry-level Renegade model.


Jeep’s brand promise: Freedom, Adventure, Authenticity, Passion

As brand, Jeep defines its promise as “Vehicles enabling life’s extraordinary journeys.” It explains its goal to “Provide vehicles that support a lifestyle of boundless freedom, responsible adventure and are reliable, safe, fun and environmentally friendly.”

Jeep is an experiential brand that most especially takes its owners outdoors, rather than to the grocery store or mall. And in that the VALS types have distinctly different approaches to outdoor experiences. Thinkers, for example, are more likely to go outdoors because nature provides them a place to rejuvenate and renew. Achievers go outdoors because it is a place to engage in activities with their children. Innovators often go to the outdoors to enjoy or explore its aesthetics or to engage in a variety of personally challenging activities. And Experiencers, as their name implies, go outdoors to engage in a variety of physically challenging experiences.


Consumers’ experiential turn

Jeep’s most engaged consumers now and in the future are the Thinkers, Achievers, Innovators and Experiencers. Breman sees a common thread that motivates them all: The value of intangibles over tangibles.

“When Baby Boomers grew up, it was all about consumerism. That is what made the consumer marketplace grow into what it is today,” she says. “But today the value of owning things is being replaced by a desire for experience.”

The old adage, “He that dies with the most toys wins,” has now been replaced. It now is,“He [ or she] that dies with the best toys wins.” Jeep understands this shift and is aiming to provide its customers with the best toys


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About the Author  |  Pamela Danziger
Pamela Danziger, Market Intelligence Contributor

Speaker, author, and market researcher Pamela N. Danziger is internationally recognized for her expertise on the world's most influential consumers: the American Affluent, including the HENRYs (high-earners-not-rich-yet) mass affluent. As founder of Unity Marketing in 1992, Pam leads with research to provide brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers. A prolific writer and blogger, Pam is author of eight books, and is frequently called on to share research-based insights with audiences and business leaders all over the world. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Pennsylvania State University and a M.L.S. from University of Maryland.