Readers Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All, So Why Is Our Content?
Our readers aren’t bathrobes—they’re not one-size-fits-all.
Yet we batch-and-blast email and direct mail campaigns. We write about what we think is best. We really only have one product, even if it’s available in different formats.
So why do we continue to treat our readers so uniformly?
It’s because this approach worked so well under the old advertising model. With a CPM or rate base model, all eyeballs are created equal. We could get away with casting a wide net to develop our audience in a cookie-cutter fashion.
But continuing to act this way is dangerous. Why?
First, advertisers are more savvy. Thanks to advances in technology, they want hard evidence that their ad spend led to an ROI. They don’t want to only know how many impressions they got. They want to know what kind of impressions they got. We’re competing against Facebook, who can tell advertisers precisely who sees their ads—where you can get in front of pretty much any segment you can dream up. You can literally target “people who always have to spell their names for other people” or “students against backpacks with wheels.”
It means we need to acknowledge that not all readers want or need the same thing. We need to put the reader in the center of all our decisions around content, features, and marketing. And we need to continuously refine our offers, content, and campaigns.
In this article we will explore that first element. We’ll recognize we’re not one-size-fits-all anymore and unleash the potential of segmentation. We’ll address:
- What exactly is segmentation?
- What types of segmentation exist?
- How can I segment my audience?
What Exactly Is Segmentation?
It’s impossible for one company to meet the needs of all their customers with one product or offering. Segmentation allows you to create marketing materials and offers that are tailored to each of the subsets of your audience. By breaking your entire reader pool into smaller segments, you can target each group in the way they want to be targeted.
Let’s step outside our industry to take a look at how a company we all know: McDonald’s. You might think that because they’re so massive they target everyone all at once. Actually, the opposite is true; McDonald’s relies heavily on segmentation. Three of their sample segments are travelers, teenagers, and busy moms. This makes sense once you look at their marketing activities.
For the travelers, they establish locations in key travel spots, like on the sides of highways and in airports. For teens, they offer high quantity, low quality Dollar Menu items. And for busy moms they have Playland and Happy Meal toys, designed to keep the kids distracted and give mom a break.
What Types of Segmentation Exist?
There are four primary ways to segment your customer base: behavioral, psychographic, geographic, and demographic.
A behavioral segmentation groups together consumers who behave in similar ways. These behaviors might be things like what they read, where they come from (search, social, etc.), or how frequently they engage with your site or open your emails. Modern predictive analytics focus on this type of segmentation. Think about the Amazon recommendation engine. Many research projects have shown this is the most effective type of segmentation. In my company’s experience, we have also seen the best results with behavioral segmentation.
Psychographic segmentation categorizes your audience based on their attitudes and beliefs. Psychographic segmentation is highly valuable, but it’s more challenging to measure. Typically, firms need to conduct market research and surveys to develop this type of segmentation. Car companies are known for using this type of segmentation. For example, Volkswagen targets different lines of cars to different people, based on their lifestyles. Volkswagen markets the Passat to families who need more space and enhanced safety features, while they market the Beetle to Boomers who remember the original iteration but want the comforts of driving a modern car.
A geographic segmentation helps companies regionalize their offerings to local tastes, preferences, and needs. For example, clothing companies may differentiate offerings by region given variations in climate. If your content has different value in different places in the world, this may be an easy one for you to focus on.
Demographic segmentation divides your audience based on observable traits about the customers’ age, gender, ethnicity, etc. Demographic segmentation is popular because it’s easy to measure these attributes. For example, most beauty care companies segment based on gender. However, this type of segmentation tends to be the least precise.
How Can I Segment My Audience?
The technology for segmentation is readily available and affordable. I’m amazed by how inexpensive it is now, relative to just a few years ago, to use advanced analytical software. Most email service providers, customer data platforms, and customer relationship management systems offer some sort of segmentation feature. If you have it, use it!
If you want to get advanced, a data scientist can take your analysis to an even higher level using methods such as regression, trees, text analysis, or clustering. Don’t know what any of those things are? Doesn’t matter—a data scientist does! Your job is to point the data scientist in the right direction and make sense out of what the numbers are saying.
There’s also a low-tech solution: educated guessing. It’s obviously not as precise as quantitatively derived segmentations, but it’s way better than nothing. You can get a cross-functional team together to hypothesize three different segments in your audience and refine your definitions over time as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Look, there’s a lot of noise out there. Every minute, there are over 4 million Facebook post likes, 2.4 million Instagram likes, 300 hours of video added to YouTube, and almost 350,000 tweets sent. How do you stand out? Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, you should strive to be something very meaningful to multiple subsets of your audience.
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Ristagno and the Sterling Woods Group are passionate about helping clients understand their best customers through data, and developing products and membership programs that exceed expectations - and generate impressive revenues. Committed to spreading this message, Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors.