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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Surname Game: The Alphabet Can Affect Customers’ Habits

When it comes to divvying up advertising dollars, marketers looking to attract early adopters might do well to begin at the end of the alphabet and work forward. That is, if they want to take advantage of “The Last Name Effect,” which, according to a new study, describes the influence a surname and, more pointedly, it’s position in the alphabet, has on buying habits.

The study, to be published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, found that consumers whose childhood surnames often placed them at the rear of the class or the end of the alphabetized line are eager to be first in adulthood.

And that desire translates into a willingness to act quickly when presented with buying opportunities. Standing in line for the latest tech toy or getting up early for a one-day sale are viewed as a chance for these “late in the alphabet” consumers to be first. And, that’s the way they like it.

This effect works at both ends of the alphabet.

In their study,"The Last Name Effect: How Last Name Influences Acquisition Timing," authors Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University and Jacqueline Conard of Belmont University report that this effect is not unique to the Williams and Zimmermans of the world.

The Abbots and Baileys are influenced as well. “Those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that individual opportunities to make a purchase won’t matter very much; they will buy late.” No camping out in front of the electronics store for these consumers.

So, when timing is a big part of the decision-making process, and according to the study’s authors it often is, understanding a potential customer’s motivation can be as simple as reading your customer list: from Z  to A.

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