Mind Genomics Explained: What’s in the Secret Sauce?

Mind Genomics Explained: What’s in the Secret Sauce?

Mind Genomics is the study of how we perceive everyday life, and the nature of how that perception differs for each of us. With metaphorical roots in the scientific study of Genomics, which have established that our behaviors, preferences and abilities derive from individual genes (alleles) and genetic codes that can only manifest in a limited number of variations, Mind Genomics asserts that our perceptions of the daily world can be treated in the same way.

By studying these perceptions we can derive a set of basic response patterns to ordinary daily events such as shopping or professional decision making while identifying variations in what aspects of these events are important (so-called mind-set segmentation). Through this metaphor we have created a system to catalog and quantify the granularity of daily life, showing how the different mind-set segments (mental alleles) respond to the same elements.

For example, when shopping for a new car, some people respond to engineering, some to price, and some to visual design. Mind Genomics uncovers these basic ‘mind-set’ segments, and shows what aspects of the car shopping experience relates to each segment so that call sellers can quickly identify and best cater to each type of buyer. Mind Genomics is a new way to understand the way we think about everyday experience, about what aspects are important, and finally what mind-set segments exist for larger ideas and topic areas, such as ethics, art, and even economics.

Segmentation: The Secret Sauce of Mind Genomics

In his popular 2005 TED Talk, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell discussed my work in the food industry as a way to highlight the importance of horizontal segmentation and customer diversity. For years producers of food products wanted to find “the perfect (insert food here)” and Prego was no exception. They hired me in the early 1980’s to find “the perfect spaghetti sauce” for their customers. The problem was that I had been hung up on this notion at the time that there was no such thing as the perfect anything. I boldly told the people at Prego, “there is no perfect spaghetti sauce, there are only perfect spaghetti sauces!”

Perhaps it was my fancy Harvard degree or some lurking notion that I might be right, but the good folks at Prego took a chance on this idea. As we experimented and began to confirm what I had suspected, namely that there are only different kinds of sauces that different people like, we made startling discoveries. For one thing, we found that 1/3 of the American people like their tomato sauce “chunky” and not a single company offered a chunky tomato sauce in the early ’80’s.

We zeroed in on three basic mind-sets or sensory preference groups when it came to sauce: mild, spicy, high texture. Mind Genomics allows us to take these ideas even further than the single product level to establish regularities in preference, both at the level of sensory perception with actual products and in the way people think about foods in general. Three mind-set segments emerged that can be applied across many areas of product development and life in general:

  1. Elaborates – love to think about all the different variations the food could have, the sauces, and so forth.
  2. Traditionalists or classics – love to hear about the product as it has been traditionally made and enjoyed.
  3. Imaginers – more interested in hearing about the experience with the product, the way it is made, the people and the ambience in which it is consumed.

Whether you’ve seen the Gladwell talk or not, you know what comes next: Prego came out with a line of tomato sauces featuring Garden Variety, Zesty, Chunky and Classic. They rose to the number one spot in the tomato sauce business and enjoyed record breaking profits and brand position for years to come. More important, at least to my mind, the foundation for Mind Genomics had been proven: customers cluster into different mind-set segments or categories that can be appealed to by specific aspects of the target experience.

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