Recently, I noted a large study that concluded the United States was divided into three regions that could be characterized by different attitudinal and temperamental make-ups -- one largely characterized by agreeableness and conscientiousness (the South and Midwest), another marked by creativity and innovation (The West and the Rockies), and a third informed by "very low levels of agreeableness" (New England, the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states).
These broad differences in psychological disposition suggested implications for marketing research, the most obvious of which being the selection of markets for traditional qualitative research. It seems reasonable not to conduct an entire project's worth of group immersions in a market where participants are more likely to be helpful and focused on the task, as easy as that might make my life.
Part of me, however, was skeptical of such a broad generalization, or, at least skeptical of the actual utility of such a generalization. However, I just came across evidence that seems to make the tripartite division of America more tantalizingly accurate -- a raking of supermarket chains, a business that is highly regional and touches virtually everyone.
Consumer Reports conducted a study based on interviews of 24,000 consumers who rated their satisfaction with grocery chains on such qualities as price, quality, cleanliness, and service. Of the twelve chains at the bottom of the list:
- One was a national chain -- everyone loves to hate Wal-Mart.
- Two were in the Midwest.
- One was in the West.
- And, the remaining eight were in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Could this really be the distribution of the chains? Are the majority of the worst supermarket chains really in the Northeast? I suppose it is possible. The area is more congested than the West, and the stock of commercial buildings is probably older. But it seems just as likely that all of those shoppers in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states are just "harder graders." After all, they are less likely to be "agreeable." Or, perhaps stores staffed by individuals who are more likely to be "temperamental," "aloof," and "irritable" may provide a less agreeable experience than stores in other parts of the country.
But, whatever the case, this look at supermarket chains reinforces the importance of assuring that any national sample accurately reflects the three psycho-graphic regions of the U.S.