The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What It All Means About Who We Are by Michael J. Weiss

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Posted 2005-10-10

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

Andy pulls into his apartment building's parking lot in his Plymouth Sundance. Once inside his apartment, he settles down to a meal of Sizzlean, RC Cola, and Hostess Twinkies. He watches Unsolved Mysteries and thumbs through his Car and Driver magazine. Tonight, he will change his shocks.

Andy is a member of family scramble, a cluster type found across the United States. The details of his life don't imply that he lives in the "flyover" between coasts. Hypoethical Andy could likely live on the West coast, just north of Los Angeles, or in Western Massachusetts.

Sarah drives her Ferrari into her suburban home and settles down to a meal of pita bread, veal, and imported wine and cheese. Listening to classical radio, she reads the Wall Street Journal and thinks about a foreign trip.
Sarah is in blue blood estates cluster, the most prosperous. Of course, there are many concentrations of her kind near New York and Los Angeles, but she could also be found in Winnetka, Illinois, or in eastern Kansas.

In The Clustered World, Weiss identifies groups of people who share similar lifestyles, products, food, drink, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, and cars or trucks. He bases his work on the idea of similar people living in the same area and that their patterns of consumer and lifestyle behavior show commonalities down to the neighborhood level. Called geodemographics, this type of analysis can be used in marketing.

I think the strength of this book is in the way it reveals a many-layered complexity of the cultural landscape of the country. Clusters reveal many different kinds of people sharing similar interests scattered throughout the US. A young literi in Cambridge, Massachusettes may share many of the same lifestyle and preference tastes as another young literi in Chicago, Illinois. Indeed, what might be considered "bland" suburbia consists of "fourteen tribes" (p. 25), as Weiss points out.

This work has limitations. The mathematically-determined clusters focused on consumer behavior and lifestyle don't necessarily reveal underlying sociological truths, but Weiss doesn't present his work in terms of theory, but in terms of marketing power. In fact, he cautions against reading too much into the clusters about individuals, but instead advises that the clusters show layers of aggregate behavior in a specific geographic area. As such, geodemographics reveals many nuances about lifestyles (which can overturn stereotyptes about urban neighborhoods) and thus can be useful to understand what people prefer in a neighborhood.

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