In anticipation of Christmas Eve on December 23, 2022, people across the globe were clinking cups of eggnog, singing carols, or just trying their best to sleep through the above and conserve their energy for the forthcoming holiday. But amidst the festivities, patients of a clinic in Doncaster, England were grappling with some unpleasant –– and entirely unexpected –– news.
Due to an error, likely involving an accidental copy-paste (we’ve all been there,) the clinic’s Christmas message sent out to patients was replaced by a notification of lab results detailing “aggressive lung cancer.” The clinic was quick to fix their mistake to the best of their ability, but to many the damage was already done and the moral of the story cemented firmly in place: you don’t want to send the wrong message.
And while sending the wrong audiences the wrong message rarely goes this horribly, well, wrong, this story is living proof that audience segmentation is vital –– whether a life-changing diagnosis is part of your messaging or not.
What Is Audience Segmentation?
First thing’s first: A segmented audience does not mean that one customer subgroup is more important than the other. Rather, it acknowledges the fact that these audiences think, act, and make decisions differently, allowing you to tailor your messaging in ways that will have the biggest impact on each. Let’s say you’re a global coffee brand, like Blue Bottle, which maintains dozens of brick-and-mortar stores in addition to wholesaling their beans to big-box retailers. Immediately, you can segment your audience into 1.) coffee shop campers who treat your storefronts like a second home and 2.) DIY brewers who use Blue Bottle beans as the basis of masterful at-home café creations. While messaging for store visitors might be geared toward the promotion of in-store events and hot (or iced) new menu items, home brewers might be more interested in knowing which locales now stock Blue Bottle’s varietals.
The above example lists just two audience segments of the near infinite number of possible customer groups. Ages, income levels, social media platforms, and personal interests can all determine which message you want to send –– ensuring that your message is always the “right” one.
Why Audience Segmentation Matters
Though the Doncaster clinic’s mistake is about as bad as improper audience segmentation can get, the unfortunate truth is that, for one or more of the clinic’s hundreds of patients, that message was not received entirely in error. This is to say that casting with a wide enough net without any audience segmentation may see some success, but the combination of trying to be everything to everyone and blind luck can only get you so far. Seth Godin, one of the forefathers of modern marketing, puts it simply: if you “worry about disappointing, missing, offending, or leaving behind someone who might become your customer, you become mediocre instead.” Content which is not segmented for specific audiences can feel like a blank Mad Lib sheet, peppered with words but not actually saying anything. Where’s the fun in that?
By segmenting audiences and creating content with each in mind, you can give your content heart without worrying about being the one lid for every pot. But beyond the quality of your content, the impact you make on audiences can also be improved through audience segmentation. See, while not sharing something with your audience can stunt your content, there’s an even greater upside to sharing something you know they’ll love. And in order define what content your audiences want to see, you must first define the audiences themselves.
How to Segment Your Audiences
There are numerous ways to segment your larger audience into smaller subgroups. Below, we’ve outlined the four which can have the biggest impact.
Call it obvious, call it low-hanging fruit –– what you can’t call segmentation by demographic is ineffective. Businesses of all shapes and sizes, even the ones learning what audience segmentation is from this very blog, are segmenting their marketing strategies by demographic. This can include age, income, education level, or even location. No, this isn’t just to ensure brands aren’t using city-slicker strategies for customers in the ‘burbs, but rather to guarantee that marketing messages remain relevant and effective.
In the same way two people might connect based on shared interests, businesses and brands can ensure marketing messaging lands by segmenting by interest. Marketing agencies like ours might employ different strategies to get in front of clients interested in growing their social media presence than those looking to build a brand from the ground up, but there are countless instances where segmenting by interest can be a valuable tool. Take a brand like Yamaha: Your favorite motorcycle, piano, jet ski, guitar, and golf cart manufacturer. The benefits of Yamaha segmenting by audience are clear (Yamaha using motorcycle messaging for piano clientele? That’s something we’d actually like to see) but even brands with far less varied offerings can benefit from segmenting by interest.
Over 92% of marketers are expected to leverage social media platforms as a part of their 2022 social media strategy, and we can’t help but wonder how many of them are segmenting by platform. See, it doesn’t take hard data to see that people behave differently on Facebook than they do on Instagram –– and both behave differently than they might on TikTok. So, as easy as it may be to upload the same content to all three, you might find that you’re selling yourself short by not segmenting by platform. Let’s refer to the above Blue Bottle example. Considering #coffeeshop has been used on Instagram over 19 million times, it’s safe to say that Instagram is a strong platform for Blue Bottle’s scenic stores. However, aspiring home brewers may need to brush up on their espresso education, making YouTube, still the long-form content king, an ideal destination.
The last way businesses and brands can segment audiences is by catering to specific “life-cycle” stages. Customers in these five stages, reach, acquisition, conversion, retention, and loyalty, all respond differently to marketing strategies, meaning your conversion approach should be different than your retention tactics. For this demonstration, let’s look to a high-end retailer like Bloomingdale’s. Online window shoppers, who are yet uncertain whether they actually need the cashmere sweater in their cart, might surreptitiously receive an incentive discount in their inbox –– making the $400 price tag a bit more manageable. Another shopper, already the proud owner of said sweater, may also receive an email from Bloomingdale’s: this time a step-by-step guide for protecting their new purchase. Email marketing might be the common thread (sorry!) between the conversion and retention stages, but the way this tool is used is tailored to each.
These four segments are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the countless ways you can subdivide your audience, but embracing a single one of these segmentation strategies can help you optimize your marketing effectiveness. To make sure you’re always sending the right message –– to prospects, customers, and everyone in between –– phone a friend.