Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beer and Relative Rates

Someone forwarded along this article about marketing research for beer. The article and its reader comments highlight the importance of understanding what relative rates mean. Remember, just because one event is more likely than another does not mean that it always happens. It just happens more often.

The article starts out with the unfortunate title, "What Your Taste in Beer Says About You". Your taste does not say anything definite about you. It only says what you are more or less likely to be like than people with different tastes. Projective psychological tests, such as the famous Rorschach, are the same way. The subtitle "How Choice of Brew Relates to Personality, Politics and Purchases" is better in that it uses the word "relates".

The mix continues. "The beer you drink says a lot about you..." Not necessarily. "Your choice of beer can be as telling about your personality as what kind of clothing you wear or the car that you drive." Yes, that is correctly written. Again, this form of marketing research is similar to some psychological tests. It finds patterns among people's choices and behaviors, and these patterns show up in the forms of relative rates. "People who do A tend to also like B more than people who do not do A" means just what it says, and does NOT mean that all people who do A like B, nor does it mean that all people who do not do A hate B.

Depending on what teacher a psychologist had, many psychological reports are written with definitive language, but other reports are written more accurately to portray the true nature of the information's relationship to the client. This article goes back and forth. Overly definitive: "There's a slang term that could sum up Heineken drinkers: posers." Accurate: "The personality traits of people who prefer Blue Moon... tracked similarly to the same type of people who prefer craft beers...." I won't even get into the argument about whether such a thing as personality exists or how it should be defined.

The comments left for this article show the confusion and ignorance that I want to try to correct. MattCrill wrote "Wow...what a bunch of hogwash. Couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a craft beer lover and absolutely none of your descriptions fit my profile." He failed to understand that the study results are about the trends among large groups of people, but his confusion was aided by the inconsistently definitive wording in the article. DarcyBaily had an equally wrong understanding of the article: "This couldn't be further from the truth. I am a craft beer drinker and none of that fits me." Just because you are in group A, but you don't do activity B that most people in A do, does not mean that it's a lie to say that most As do B.

Msalup said, "This article falls squarely on the "Uri Geller/Pseudoscience" arena. Can't believe that someone takes this kind of "segmentation" seriously." These are real statistics based on practices that multi-billion dollar corporations have used for decades because these segmentation practices are effective at guiding marketing and product development decisions. I don't know if it qualifies as science, but it's not just made up nonsense. GaryBuck commented on this article's "meaningless generalizations". Though the article does make some overly definitive statements, they are still not meaningless. The differences between the groups of beer-drinkers are meaningful, which is why the research was conducted. There are some good comments farther down the page.

So, the article could have been written more accurately, but I think many people would have had the same misunderstandings even if it were. Many people do not understand the qualifying language of statistics. This misunderstanding causes problems in people's decision-making and evaluations of the world around them. I am sure I will have more examples in the future.

For the record, I am a major explorer of craft beers (I keep a spreadsheet of what I've had with my reviews), and I do fit the mentioned trends except for buying organic.