Make Messy Segments Not Tidy Stereotypes


One of the necessary preoccupations of marketing people is to identify their target market as clearly as possible. At Tangible we are strong advocates of the theory that the widest possible targets make for larger pools of potential buyers, but we also believe that segmentation can be useful. The challenge when working with high volume brands in crowded markets is to focus on defining broad targets for growth and avoid falling into the trap of creating unrepresentative narrow stereotypes of pockets of non-existent potential customers.

There are two important considerations when embarking on a segmentation exercise:

Firstly, only go through the cost and pain if you can use the results to develop efficient differentiated activation strategies for each segment you want to target;

Secondly, recognise a fundamental human truth – we are complex, conflicted and inconsistent individuals.

The problem with many beautifully crafted so-called consumer segments based on detailed and exhaustive analysis of clusters of data is that they resemble precisely no one. We are seduced by a desire for tidiness to imagine that people behave in one easily defined and described manner when buying in our category. We don’t take account of the fact that we are inherently what the cognitive scientist George Lakoff might call brand biconceptual.

The reality is we are comfortable embracing opposites, being habitually promiscuous and not thinking through and reacting in different ways according to need state and situation. In other words, people are people and not stereotypes so the best segments look for commonalities rather than universal consistency.

With this in mind, here is a Tangible checklist for successful segmentation:

Segmentation is a means to an end – no more, no less. So if you don’t know what you are going to use it for before you start, don’t start

Avoid over segmenting, and simplify as much as possible

Segments should be only as internally homogenous as they need to be, and as externally heterogeneous as they possibly can be

Make segments powerful by being built on insights that give you an advantage – it really isn’t worthwhile recording that mothers in your category love their children or that some people look out for deals and offers in store – your competitors know this too

Use highly evocative names and descriptions – make them simple, memorable and never patronising or negative

Bring segments to life by basing them on real people – not by overwriting algorithms with spurious pen portraits. An avatar or persona is all too often a fantasy – you’ll never find them. A real person with all their contradictions complexities and confusion is the real target.