Gail Goodman, writing for Entrepreneur, makes a great point about how audience segmentation can transform your email marketing, making it more relevant, impactful and effective.
Unfortunately, I have to take issue with her recommendations about segmenting your audience in the section titled “Selecting Your Segments”:
“To be effective, most businesses need only two or three segments, and it’s a simple process to begin. Start by deciding how you want to segment your list. What are the most important distinctions you make when deciding how to present your products or services to prospects? There are many questions you may ask yourself: What industry are they in? How big are their companies? What are their ages and genders? How old are their children? Where do they live? Form your questions based on the variables that matter most to your business.”
“I’m The Decider”
I see this approach all the time as companies seek to develop their marketing messages: “Let’s sit in this room and decide what our customers want.” Guess what? YOU’LL BE WRONG.
The fact is that even if you have sophisticated data about what your customers buy from you, and even if you have demographic data about how much money they make or how old they are or how many kids they have, you can’t tell just by looking which of those elements (if any) are relevant in their purchase decision-making. And the likelihood is that you DON’T have that sophisticated data in the first place, which means you’re sitting around a conference table with a very small sample of people who work for the same organization you do, trying to put yourself in the place of the customers you serve.
Look From the Outside In
The truth is, it’s doubtful you and the other people you work with will EVER know all the various reasons people buy your stuff, instead of somebody else’s. And it’s a sure bet that you won’t be able to intuitively figure out which of these reason are really significant in defining groups of people that you can craft marketing messages for. In virtually every audience segmentation initiative I’ve worked on, the demographics of consumers have had almost no impact on the eventual audience segments revealed by the research. The fact is, unless you’re selling feminine products or baby food, the motivation for purchase is likely to be based more on personal interests — “I like my food really spicy” or “I don’t care how a candle looks, I care about how it smells” — which are not going to be revealed by the age or income of the consumers in question.
Often, too, we tend to have blinders on about other key aspects of purchase motivation simply because we work for the company doing the marketing. I worked with a great firm that made and sold luxury items. When the research revealed that their customers identified Target and Walmart as places where they could find other “luxury” items like my client’s, the firm’s management was quick to argue that the customers were simply wrong — the products sold at those meg-retailers simply couldn’t be compared to the company’s high-end items.
In fact, it was company management that was wrong. Because, like it or not, customers make up their OWN MINDS about our competitive set — and everything else about our brands, products and services. We’re much better off understanding our customers’ motivations and perceptions, and crafting marketing messages that address them — for example, explaining why our products are better than what they can buy at WalMart — than we will ever be by ignoring them.
Learn What Really Matters
The best thing you can do for your marketing efforts — and for your business — is to learn what really drives purchase among your customers through audience segmentation research. Find out WHY they buy what they do, and what they’re interested in. If you can, find out for each and every customer you have. The worst mistake we can make is to assume we know. And the easiest thing to do is simply ask, and listen to the answers.