The latest in CitySmart’s Breakfast Series on November 29 looked at the fascinating behaviour of different consumer households and how they make buying decisions.

Our guest speaker was Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett from QUT, who shared insights drawn from CitySmart’s Australia-wide research on electricity consumers.

The project team created a customer segmentation model of different household personas/segments, each of them differing in the way they set goals, make buying decisions, gather information and use technology like smartphones.

The segments are, unusually, based animal metaphors because of some striking and easily recognisable analogies to human behaviours: Ant Colony, Beehive, Flock of Geese, Wallabies, Domestic Cats and Lion Pride.

An unexpected finding was that a household’s decision-making style was not likely to vary when it came to other products or services e.g. internet providers, buying property, buying white goods and so on. This makes the household personas relevant and potentially of great value to brands and retailers beyond the electricity sector.

You can read more about the personas here and how they were developed: Wallaby or beehive? Meet the Australian electricity consumer.

Q & A panel highlights

Following are some highlights from the Q & A panel discussion that followed Professor Russell-Bennett’s presentation, during which she was joined by Neil Horrocks, CEO CitySmart and Darren Cook, Customer Insights Manager, Queensland Urban Utilities.

Households are like business units

“What sits behind these household segments is organisational theory about businesses. There are five structures of organisations. They sit underneath our personas, because we found that households are operating just like a business. For example, “The Bureaucracy” is our “Ant Colony”. “The Small Business” is our “Flock of Geese” or “Cat Family”. So you could actually use our personas to describe the organisational culture of a business.” – Professor Russell-Bennett, QUT 

Could households ever change from one persona to another?

The household dynamic comes from the collective. So if you have members coming in or out of that household, yes, the group persona can actually change. Like if someone gets divorced and a new family comes together. Or the kids grow up and you become just a two person household, so you have less people to argue with or debate, and that changes the dynamic.” – Professor Russell-Bennett, QUT

A marketing opportunity for energy retailers

“This segmentation gives us a really good insight into what households are trying to achieve in their daily life. For them it’s not really about energy or about water or whatever, it’s about getting on and living their lives. So if you understand that you can start to fashion your value proposition around how you can help them achieve those goals. Then they’ll start to pay attention to what you have to say.” – Neil Horrocks, CitySmart

Relevance of the household personas beyond the energy market

“Because the qualitative findings [interviews] mapped so closely with our quantitative findings [the online survey] we’re pretty confident that other things that came out of those interviews are useful beyond the topic of electricity. We got to talk about how they made purchases in general. High volume purchases, high expense purchases, low involvement products. That was all part of the rapport building. We actually didn’t anticipate the consistency of behaviour across buying different things. For example, we asked how they made a decision about where they chose to live [buying a home], and that was exactly the same process as how they chose an energy retailer or how they chose to pay their bills.” – Professor Russell-Bennett, QUT

“For us in the water industry, there are some real lessons here in how you communicate different messages in different ways about the same subject. So, for instance, some people might look at water efficiency in terms of their environmental impact. Others may see it in terms of community and doing the right thing for others. So it’s about finding out what messages resonate with different customers rather than just one message across your entire residential customer base.” – Darren Cook, QUU

Visual prompts help consumers articulate their needs

“In the qualitative research [interviews] we assumed that no one would find talking about electricity particularly interesting. Nor is it something top of mind that they might be able to easily articulate. In a family interview situation you have kids that can potentially be very disruptive when they get bored. So we used projective techniques. We had a lot of pictures and imagery, like showing them pictures of different TV families and asking them which one is you. We used things like that to get the ball rolling. We asked them to pick icons to show how they felt, we did a family storyboard with different sections, and we played some games like when is the cheapest time of day to use you electricity.” – Professor Russell-Bennett, QUT

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