Market Research Event Recap: Categorization is Communication


At the Market Research Event last week, one theme was played out in several presentations - categorization. And it hit home, as I'm currently working on a study whose goal is to categorize over 100 products in a way that makes sense to consumers!

Categorization was a major theme discussed by Sheena Iyengar, who spoke about "The Art of Choosing". People make thousands of choices each day and, as she puts it, face "choice overload." She offers three solutions:


  • Cut duplicates and indistinguishable.

  • Categorize the options.

  • Condition the chooser for complexity by offering the easier choices
    first before working into the more complex choices.

This advice is not only great for product offerings at shelf, but it is also great for business communications.

Ruben Alcaraz from Meijer spoke on data visualization and gave some great advice that I think ties into the power of categorization. He said, "It's not that people don't get it, it's just that we [market researchers/those sharing our data] aren't good at communicating it."

Really, categorization is communication. A jumble of data on a page does not tell a story. Humans are visually-oriented and, to be an effective communicator in the visual realm, we must categorize our information in a way that makes sense to our audience.

So, Ms. Iyengar's three pieces of advice also apply to reporting and data visualization:


  • Don't show duplicate data.

  • Section off reports (or even parts of a slide) in a way that makes sense
    to the audience and supports your story.

  • Start with the obvious, more general information and work your way into
    the deeper, newer information.

Categorization is not a novel concept; we have grouped and framed information forever. However, I think it is a good reminder that information is far less powerful when it's not organized in a way that speaks to the audience. And, when organized in a meaningful way, it helps people choose where to focus their attention and it helps the author to tell the story efficiently and with ambiguity.

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