cartoon of REaD Group Director, Scott Logie, running with a glass of wine surrounded by a dog, 3 cats and chickens as an example of segmentation

by Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

Many years ago, in the last millennium in fact, I worked in a large UK Bank.  One of the projects we undertook was to segment our customer base.  We started by breaking it down into lifestages, clustered each lifestage and then grouped them together.  We then overlaid a lot of data including attitudes, lifestyle and detailed customer research by segment.  This segmentation was then responsible for helping create the underlying marketing strategy.  And one that worked amazingly well, we were getting up to 25% response rate on some of our outbound direct mail campaigns.

This wasn’t my first segmentation project although it was probably the biggest I’d tackled at that point.  Since then I have been involved in many many more and frankly, I love them. Not just from a data point of view – they are pretty fun though – but also because they always throw up some exciting, interesting and useful segments for our clients.

Over the years, I’ve got pretty pissed off hearing about the death of segmentation.  Because we can track the behaviour of every individual on-line, and have the technology to create bespoke plans for each of them, there is now no need to segment.

The truth is that when you have millions of customers, and prospects, to engage with, you can’t make every decision based on a detailed and personalised plan for every individual. So segmentation is actually still really useful and for me is the bridge between mass marketing and the nirvana of one-to-one marketing.

And segmentation exists in endless varieties. From the micro-segmentation of traffic arriving at websites, to the attitudinal or behavioural segmentation of a brand’s customers, to the socio-economic segmentation of voters, to the geo-demographic segmentation of media consumers, there is segmentation at work everywhere, and with increasing sophistication.

Segmentation is quite straight forward to do and powerful when used correctly. While each of us are our own person, in many ways we still act like a lot of other people. We actually do exhibit common patterns of behaviours and attitudes, and it is useful for brands to acknowledge and act on those patterns.

However, there are some important considerations when looking to create a segmentation.

First, be clear about the usage that a given segmentation approach is intended to address. All segmentations answer some questions but no segmentation answers all questions. Maybe you want to retain your most valuable segments then the segmentation needs to be lead by value.  Maybe you want to understand where there is market potential, then the segmentation needs to address an overall market.  Or maybe you need to understand the demographics and behaviours of your customers to drive content and creative, then the segmentation needs to be demographics led.  It might sound obvious but a lot of segmentations are done without thinking about how they will be used.

Secondly, think about the data.  A lot of the time I feel that data is chucked at a segmentation.  I’ve been guilty of this myself, just throw all the data in and see what happens.  Over time, I’ve learned that this is dangerous.  Notwithstanding all the statto needs to normalise, scale and deal with data anomalies there are other important things to consider.  The most important of these I believe is to split the data into what is going to be useful to create the segments and what is better being used to describe the segments – this is not always the same data.    

Finally, this is not a data project.  Segmentation is a customer project.  I know it starts with the data but it should end with creative ways to engage customers and prospects and, sadly, that is never going to happen if the project sits in a data team (sorry geeks).  So it is really important to engage the whole team early, get them to understand what is being done and why and that this project will fly if they get involved and give it some life.  Some of the best projects I’ve been involved in are the ones where creative marketers owned the segmentation.

So the next time someone tells you that segmentation is dead, tell them you don’t think so.  In fact, not only is it not dead but it is alive and well and thriving for brands that want to build bespoke campaigns for their customers.  Tell them you are proud to be one of the people who sits in the segment called “believers”.