How to segment your audience – 4 types of market segmentation evaluated

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Market segmentations can be powerful tools for companies big and small. By tailoring your strategy based on the needs of your key customer segments, you can better appeal to the customers that matter most. But how do you segment your audience and what are the different forms of segmentation you can use?

There are 5 main types of segmentation

A segmentation divides the market up into distinct groups of customers, and identifies those that are most valuable to your business. There are 5 main ways you can do this. 

Geographic segmentation

The first and most basic form of segmentation is geographic segmentation. This approach to segmentation looks to create groups of customers based on the following factors:

  • Country
  • Region
  • City 
  • Area e.g. urban, suburban, rural
  • Climate or season
  • Timezone
  • Language

Geographic data is some of the easiest data to obtain and analyze, and for some businesses this can be a useful way of segmenting the market. Imagine you’re an automotive manufacturer selling a four wheel drive. Segmenting the market based on location could be useful as a starting point as you’re likely to have much greater success targeting those in rural locations than urban centers. But this example shows that the effectiveness of a geographic segmentation is limited. There are a number of other factors that play into willingness to buy a four wheel drive – income level, lifestage, previous purchase patterns, attitudes and values all play a role too.

This demonstrates that in most cases segmenting on geographic factors alone is insufficient. Doing so can lead you down a dangerous path. Assuming that all customers are the same simply because they live in the same place is reductionist and can risk stereotyping and as a result, alienating customers. 

Demographic segmentation

As the name suggests, a demographic segmentation seeks create customer segments based on demographic information including:

  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Income level 
  • Level of education 

As with a geographic segmentation, this is one of the easiest ways for a company to approach segmentation as demographic data on existing customers is easy to collect and in many cases, is already readily accessible in a company CRM system.

It does have some uses. For instance, if you’re a luxury brand, focusing on existing or potential customers who earn above a certain income threshold is a no-brainer, as it means you’re able to focus your resources on the people that are most likely to be able to buy your product. 

That said, segmenting on demographic factors alone has been largely discredited, as whilst people may be the same age or earn a similar amount, this does not mean they are all the same. 

That said, many brands still seem to be falling into the trap of targeting based on generational differences and the current obsession with “millennials” or “Gen Z” is case in point. Joon, Air France’s failed attempt to to create an airline for millennials, shows the danger in doing this. The airline played into all the stereotypes about this segment – hip and trendy uniforms for the crew, digital services including VR headsets on board and quinoa front and center in the in-flight menu. Unsurprisingly, the concept alienated target and non-customers alike and the airline flopped.

Firmographic segmentation

A firmographic segmentation is often used for segmenting B2B customers. It relies on similar principles to a demographic segmentation, looking at factors about current and target companies such as:

  • Company size
  • Industry 
  • Job title

Like geographic and demographic segmentations, this type of data is readily available either in a company CRM system or online so can be a good starting point for businesses wanting to segment the market and focus on the customers with most potential. But when working in B2B, we mustn’t forget that the clients we are dealing aren’t just companies. They are people too. A marketing manager in a small firm in the professional services sector might have more in common with a marketer in a large FMCG firm than with their peers, as their motivations and values may be similar. 

Behavioral segmentation 

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More sophisticated forms of segmentation look not just at who consumers are, but how they behave in relation to your brand and category. Behavioral segmentations do what they say on the tin, they analyze customers based on their past behaviors such as:

  • Spending patterns 
  • Browsing history 
  • Interactions with the brand 

Behavioral segmentations have become popular with digital first brands and B2B firms embracing marketing automation, as not only can this data be easily gathered and analyzed, but once the segmentation has been finalized, it’s possible to allocate customers to a segment and then tailor comms accordingly – all within the digital ecosystem. For instance, a first time buyer will receive different promotions and messaging to a returning customer. This can be very powerful, ensuring that marketing campaigns have more cut through and result in greater conversion.

However there are some drawbacks. Behavioral segmentations are predominantly based on a consumer’s digital footprint. As we’re all aware, this only tells half the story. Whilst you might be able to identify that a customer is looking for a new pair of shoes, you won’t know why. As such, marketing strategies based on behavioral segmentations tend to be quite product-focused and won’t necessarily connect with consumers on a deeper level. Behavioral segmentations are also less helpful for informing product development. Sure – you’ll be able to ascertain the product or service a customer is interested in right now, but behavioral segmentations don’t take into account customer needs which can reveal opportunities for innovation or to optimize your existing offering.

Needs based segmentation 

The fifth and final type of segmentation is a needs based segmentation. Needs based segmentations look to segment customers based on attitudinal factors such as:

  • Needs
  • Values
  • Motivations
  • Priorities

Needs based segmentations are widely regarded as the most effective approach to take segmentation and as such, make up the vast majority of segmentations used by businesses nowadays. Why?

Needs based segmentations don’t assume that people are the same simply because they share geographic or demographic characteristics or because they’ve bought the same thing. Instead they look deeper, creating groups of people based on shared needs and values.

This can be extremely powerful as it allows you to understand how your product or brand fits into customers’ lives, helping to put their needs at the heart of your strategy and allowing you to be more customer-centric as a business.

Segmenting based on needs can power innovation by illuminating unmet needs or areas where your product or service falls short. It can provide inspiration for powerful marketing campaigns that align with consumers’ attitudes and values, creating a strong connection with the brand and fostering loyalty.

Market segmentation studies can be powerful tools for any business. Find out more about our capabilities in this area or get in touch to discuss a new project with us. We’d be happy to share our expertise.

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