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The Dr. House of

   Armen A. Avakian

We all know Dr. House – the famous TV character who turns the rules upside down, without hesitation, but always manages to get his answer. You often see him standing in front of the whiteboard jotting down diagnoses, eliminating them one by one through trial and error. His process is called differential diagnosis (or DDx). Let’s see how this technique can be applied in marketing for consumer insight mining.

Differential diagnosis

DDx is a method that many physicians and doctors use to diagnose their patients. It is a process of hypothesizing a set of diagnoses and then eliminating them one by one using various methods of testing. During this process new symptoms may manifest in the patient, in which case the DDx changes.

When trying to identify the best consumer segment to target in a given country, we often find ourselves standing next to a whiteboard with a marker in hand, writing down what is essentially a DDx for identifying the highest value consumer target.

Connects and disconnects

While running the DDx we come across data points and insights that are “connects” – the data is suggesting something that seems to be intuitively correct for that specific consumer profile, based on their demographic, lifestyle, values, and consumption habits. Once in a while we also come across “disconnects” – a situation in which the consumer profile and the data point seem not to match at first glance.

These disconnects are always interesting for us, as they reflect a deeper reality. Humans are complex and mostly irrational in their consumption habits and this is reflected in the work we do. Diagnosing those disconnects are even more interesting, as Dr. House would say.

It is not enough to simply identify a disconnect; we must explore and dig deeper to determine what is really happening to prove or disprove a behavioral or motivational diagnosis. Going deeper and deeper into what the consumer thinks and feels and how they act is a must. Looking at other categories as well as other brands can also yield useful information that is paramount in completing the diagnosing process.


Now that we have our diagnosis, what do we do with that knowledge? We cure the patient (in our case – getting them to buy) with any and all tools at our disposal. Sometimes this is as simple as tweaking a message to make it more emotionally appealing, sometimes it’s re-branding and even launching a new brand.

Real case prognosis: launch a new brand

While working on the Efes beer business in Russia, we came across a rather intriguing disconnect.

The first step in the targeting process was to dive deep into the category of beer and other alcoholic beverages. We found out that a segment named Cosmos, a consumer segment that although skewed female, drank the most amount of premium beer out of all the segments in the market. The penetration rate for premium beer in the total population was 15%, whereas for Cosmos it was 45%; a significant difference. Intuitively this did not make sense – a disconnect. Young females tend to drink wine, champagne, etc. – at least that is what we initially hypothesized. The other disconnect was the fact that they do not drink vodka like a lot of other young females in other countries or even relative to the overall Russian market (29% compared to the population average of 37%). So the question we wondered was if the disconnect on relatively low vodka consumption was related to the earlier disconnect of significantly higher beer consumption.

The answers to our questions (the disconnects) became clearer when we looked deeper into the Cosmo’s lifestyle, attitudes, and values. For example, they are very open-minded, social, modern, and tend to be pro-West. Beer is considered more modern and Western-oriented in Russia. They also like to be in control of the situation, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Beer has a lower alcohol content than vodka, thus better allowing them to drink and yet still stay in control. This and many other factors, including their preference for low-alcohol cocktails told us that they are using the beer as an “alco-pop” – a low alcoholic beverage that allows them to socialize and be part of the group while maintaining control.

Now that we had connected the disconnects, the next step was to use the insights that surfaced in the process to sell them on our brand. Upon further digging into their lifestyle and values, we concluded that the main insights and tension points for this segment were:

1) Stay in control. They enjoy the attract-and-push-away game of courting in a nightclub or bar. They need to be sharp and quick-witted.

2) Socialize, be fun and be an active part of the group.

3) Stand out in the crowd by being modern and dynamic.

4) Be different from the generation above – what their father/mother did is something that is old.

As that segment was underserved at the time, there was an opportunity to launch a new brand that released the tension points we have mentioned with a uniquely positioned brand targeting Cosmos. The DDx result was to launch a new brand: IRIS. For further information about IRIS please click here. We think Dr. House would be quite impressed.

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