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How to best use segmentation in your marketing

How to best use segmentation in your marketing

By Bryan Urbick, CEO & President, Consumer Knowledge Centre Ltd.

The idea of segmenting consumers seems incredibly logical and the clear understanding of certain consumer profiles can help uncover relevant and motivating insights.  Classifying these various consumer types can then help us to better target our brands and marketing activities.

The logic is somewhat flawed, though, and segmentation thinking needs to be pushed further to truly capture deep and insightful truths that motivate consumers to adopt our brands.

Segmentation has been basking in the limelight recently.  According to many marketing gurus this is a key step in defining consumer insights.  Though it can certainly be a positive move, segmentation is only part of the story.  A deeper understanding of consumer behaviour is to refine the model so that it acknowledges the complexity of the consumer’s life, and can adapt as the consumer goes in and out of the various segments.

The initial understanding of this trans-segment behaviour was initially built when working with insight groups made up of mothers and children. Whilst the segmentation model can help define the insight, it needs to be broken down further in order to be effective.

An excellent example is a mother who will go through several segments or ‘modes’ throughout a normal day. She can go from ‘controlling’ mode, to ‘educational’ mode and ‘emotional’ mode.  Depending on when and how contacted, the mother will fall into a different segment.

To put this theory to the test, we took the opportunity of contacting mums at different times of day and found that nearly 1/3 of the mums were inconsistent in their segment classification.  Though only on a small scale, we were able to provide the client with an answer as to why certain marketing activities didn’t work according to plan.

This makes sense if we think about it.  Even a ‘health conscious’ mother who, when in a ‘treating’ mode will buy the pink sugary sweet her child is hankering for, this represents a ‘real treat’. If she were in a controlling mode she may use a treat as encouragement for the child to exhibit a certain behaviour; or in educational mode she may be more likely to call an apple or a box of raisins a treat.

In reality, then, all consumers can be all (or most) segments, depending on the ‘mode’ or ‘role’ they are in.  I am one individual, but behave in different ways depending on what is needed at that time.  I am a different consumer at each of those times as well. By acknowledging this in segmentation thinking, we can take the insight to new levels.

Rather than thinking merely in which segment a consumer falls, brand managers should be more interested in what triggers such a consumer to snap out of one mode and into the mode that represents their product – this is the real nirvana. We can establish what the consumer wants – at some point – but catching them when they are in the right ‘mode’, or even triggering a mode-shift, is whole new ball game.

This doesn’t mean that we need to throw away our segmentation models. Quite the contrary!  Segmentation modelling becomes the foundation for the next step of thinking.  Firstly, we must then make the assumption that all segments reside in each target.  This is a testable hypothesis, and can be conducted using the same base, but contacting them at various times, when they would logically be in different roles or modes.

Second, we need to better understand the transition points.  Those triggers – whether they be different day-parts, different sets of needs or even different ways in which we are addressed – need to be understood.  In our work with mums we have learned that certain sensory cues can get a mum from controller to bond-er, or indeed teacher.  The combination of specific words and imagery can jar an office supervisor from manager to mentor.  What, we should ask ourselves, are the triggers most relevant to our brand?

This leads to the final step: we need to explore and understand how our brand best plays in the various roles or modes, and test ways in which to trigger the trans-modal shifts.  These shift triggers can be a range of different things, but to be most useful, need to be appropriate to the wider brand experience.

Is this adding too much complexity to segmentation thinking?  Perhaps it adds some complexity, but one can argue that oversimplification of the segmented consumer can lead us down very wrong paths.  A consumer insight – a truth – has to be able to stand in the context of consumer lives.

And life’s context is more complex than a segmentation model permits.  To presuppose that we are one-dimensional creatures is hugely problematic, and fraught with untruth. 

Revising the way we think about segments and how we use them can unleash a powerful understanding that will benefit our brands and take segmentation to the next, more insightful, level.

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