Most marketers don’t count religious affiliation or degree of religiosity as key demographics, but a new study suggests perhaps they should. Makers of branded “self expression” items (such as logo apparel or designer sunglasses) in particular may find this segmentation useful.

According to a paper by Ron Shachar (Tel Aviv University and Duke) and co-authors from NYU and Duke, religious people, or even people temporarily in a religious frame of mind, find branded items less appealing than do less religious people.

From the abstract of an early version of their paper, Brands: The Opiate of the Nonreligious Masses?:

First, the authors examine the relationship between religiosity and brand reliance in the U.S. at a macro level, using state level data. Next, they adopt a more micro-level analysis and examine the relationship between individual levels of religiosity and brand reliance using measures of behavior. The results of both studies suggest that non-religious consumers rely on brands to a much greater degree than do religious consumers, particularly when income is high. [Emphasis added.]

The work was published this month in Marketing Science. The authors suggest that retail merchandisers could skew sales away from national brands and toward their store brands by invoking subtle (or perhaps not subtle) religious cues in the store environment.

Brand marketers might find acting on this research a little more difficult; geographic differences in religiosity likely show up in more general sales data used to guide marketing decisions such as store locations. Micro-targeting less religious people would seem to be difficult.

Direct Marketing

One group that might be able to exploit this research is the direct marketing community which has great ability to micro-target customer segments. Lists could be enhanced with, say, religious affiliation or cross-referenced with donor lists. Customers that appeared to be religious might get a less brand-oriented catalog cover, say, than others. A clever marketer, I suppose, could also provide religious cues in a mailing piece offering unbranded “value” products. It’s hard to say how effective this would be, but direct marketers love to test new ways of boosting response. I hope at least one gives this a whirl!

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