Even after most financial services providers diligently collect and analyze available marketing data to define their customer base, few understand the underlying reasons for the decisions customers make. Most conventional research techniques simply cannot capture why people do what they do.

But it is possible to get consumers to express their values and the pivotal motivations for responses to various products and services.

For example, our proprietary methodology, called Value Structuring, examines decision-making on four interrelated levels: attributes, benefits/barriers, emotions, and imagery.

With this information laid over respondents' personal values, we developed a portrait of key customer types for the financial services marketplace.

We see six discrete market segments among households in the top quartile, earning $40,000 a year or more.

The characteristics:

* Pessimistic, insecure about finances, risk averse, traditional, and loyal. This group looks for personalized service from a conventional, proven supplier that is well established.

* New to financial services, motivated by the security derived from a well-planned future. These people don't want personalized services, but rather an accessible product or service with a sound history of success.

* Crave the presumed security brought by status. They want the most personal, prestigious, trusted, friendly provider. But their need for status dominates decisions. If the person they admire uses Provider X, then they must use X, too.

* "Have made it," by their definition, not yours. They want low fees, flexibility, readily available products and services, and tried-and-true methods. They are driven by self-confidence, pride, and "security," defined as the preservation of assets.

* Driven by control and self-confidence. They want useful, high-tech information, such as computer-generated company performance data, to interpret and apply insight to managing their own finances. Will not jump on all risks, but will balance their own risk-to-profit relationship.

* Financial sophisticates. This group wants complete control of their finances. They take risks, moving in and out of the market all the time, and they demand daily even constant, information.

The subtle differences between the groups are often reflected in the types and styles of financial services they select. Therefore, a provider can serve its target audience effectively by understanding the values that drive different consumers and honing its marketing persona to meet the group's needs.

In that way, well-defined markets help firms stop trying to be all things to all people, and focus on meeting the needs and values of the customer base they most want to serve.

It is important to understand that these groups generally delineate the market for all types of financial services, not for any one company. Individual profiles can be determined through company-specific research.

Going a step further with individualized research, a financial service provider can determine how its customers perceive its services. And it can determine the critical factors that create perception.

In other words, a values-based methodology has the potential to answer to the key questions that have gone unanswered for years: "Why" consumers do the financial things they do - and buy the things they buy.

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