Segmentation First Aid

The myth of segmentation is that it makes things simpler and clearer for marketers but, full disclosure and no surprise to anyone, it turns out consumers are notoriously fickle and unpredictable. Segmentation becomes painful when neatly bundled and cleverly named consumer groups stubbornly refuse to behave according to their segment.

It seems so easy to identify and anticipate the needs of “Empty Nesters,” for example. But these consumers may appreciate the idea of empty nesting because of reduced household expenses, yet detest the notion when it comes to lonely dinners at home. The concept of empty nesting could be delightful one day and awful the next. There’s also the issue of self-identification: One company defined a target segment as “Postmenopausal Empty Nesters.” Needless to say, it’s doubtful there has ever been one consumer who would define herself in that way. And surely you will never find a consumer who appreciates that designation.

Consumers just won’t play well

Segmentation is almost impossible to accomplish because the modern consumer is dynamic and has an extraordinary number of choices—too many to predict. Consumers refuse to play in their designated clusters—there are simply too many alternatives in the world to produce segments that conform in expected and truly meaningful ways for marketing programs. Instead, consumers respond to what’s happening and who they are in the moment, not what they guessed was the right answer on a survey last year or last month.

Unfortunately, many of our clients discover—after spending large portions of their budgets—that traditional segmentation is less than useful for discerning why consumers buy. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to dilute brand positions and it costs too much to create different marketing campaigns to address multiple segments, especially those that aren’t behaving as expected. So we often get somewhat desperate calls to dig below the segmentation data to find the deeper emotional drivers that are similar to all consumers—what we call “human universals.”

We’ve discovered consumers more naturally bundle around the emotional reward of a task or experience they are trying to accomplish in the moment rather than superficial survey demographics or lifestyle delineations. For example the brand decision made while creating a shopping list can change substantially when the consumer is standing at the shelf in the store. Her very different emotional need state at the purchase moment of truth can alter her behavior enough to make her look like a different segment altogether. And foil the best-laid segmentation plans.

Emotional segments

The remedy for the pain of ineffective segmentation is to reveal the deeper, universal emotions driving consumer behavior—which tend to be more stable than superficial rational markers. We can then create more meaningful segmentation schemes that cluster consumers according to the rewards they hope to gain from a particular job or experience. Segmentation is far more manageable and effective when based on specific emotional motivations aligned with shopping or purchasing behaviors that deliver consumers’ emotional needs.

More information on our point of view about how to create meaningful segmentation is available on our website. It’s sure to help change the way you think about segmentation and change the way you think about your customers.

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