Professor Richard Webber, the man who invented geodemographics nearly 40 years ago, has slammed those who believe targeting by ethnicity is prejudiced, claiming firms which fail to understand the cultural differences between minority groups are themselves running the risk of being racist.
Writing exclusively for Decision Marketing, Webber points out that the number Britons of foreign descent is now larger than the population of Greater London, arguing: “Any marketer who disregarded Londoners would be slated for failing to address the needs of an important niche market segment.”
After graduating with Masters Degrees from both Cambridge and Liverpool, Webber created Acorn, the first neighbourhood classification system, while working at the government’s Centre for Environmental Studies in the Seventies.
He went on to develop the scheme at CACI, then switched to Experian to set up Mosaic. Since then he has worked across social science to apply the insights gained from geodemographics to a wide range of topics including demography, geography, politics, sociology and urban studies.
Webber writes: “Cultural influences on behaviour remain pervasive and far more persistent than most people realise. Consequently, not making an attempt to understand the preferences and behaviours of particular minority communities can itself be interpreted as disrespectful and ‘racist’.
“If a supermarket sends an offer on butcher-choice sausages to Jewish and Muslim families without discrimination – will that not be considered disrespectful by its recipients? Would it be racist or merely helpful for an airline to target flights to Poland to people with Polish names or for a theatre to send information about a visiting Swedish orchestra to people on their mailing list with Swedish names?”
In 2014, Webber joined forces with writer and broadcaster Trevor Phillips to launch insight consultancy Webber Phillips. He is a also visiting professor at the University of Newcastle and a fellow of the Market Research Society and the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing.
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