“Name That Segment!”: Questioning the Unquestioned Authority of Numbers

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In many companies, numbers equal authority. Quantitative data is often viewed as more definitive than qualitative data, while its shortcomings are overlooked. Many of us have worked to marry quantitative with qualitative methods inside organizations to present a fuller view of the people for whom we develop. One area of research that increasingly needs to blend quantitative and qualitative methods is user segmentations. Our software technology product team has been using a segmentation based on quantitative data since 2005. One outcome of this effort has been the development of an algorithm–based “typing” tool intended to be used as a standard tool in recruiting for all segmentation-focused research. We learned that the algorithm was an indecipherable black box, its inner workings opaque even to those who owned it internally. This case study looks at how qualitative research came up against the impenetrable authority of a quantitative segmentation and its associated typing tool, and subsequently contributed to the redesign of future segmentation methodologies and the integration of qualitative research as a key component of segmentation creation.

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