Audience Segmentation 101

Every business has a target audience. That target audience is comprised of many different people with varied backgrounds, interests, and preferences for what content they want and how they like to receive it. Ideally, you would be able to tailor your messaging and content to each individual in your audience in order to make a meaningful connection with each one, but that is often not possible because of time, money, or technological constraints.

The next best thing is segmentation-finding similarities in habits and/or traits among the individuals in your target audience that facilitate classification of these individuals into sub-audiences-or “segments”-and then tailoring your communications to those sub-audiences to get more traction out of your marketing campaigns.

Simply put, audience segmentation is an important tactic to implement in your marketing strategy because it helps optimize the performance of your messaging and content by customizing the user experience for different pieces of your audience pie. For example, long-time customers typically don’t appreciate a companies trying to ‘sell’ to them as though they are new customers, and doing so may cost you their business. With audience segmentation, you can send different messages to your long-standing customers and your prospects.

Here are a few sample audience segments a marketer could use to categorize their website audience:

  • First-time visitors
  • Repeat visitors
  • Customers
  • Returning customers
  • Registrants or visitors who responded to a call to action on the site
  • Click-throughs from marketing campaigns

You will often find that some segments favor certain types of content over others, and some segments will respond well to a call to action while the same call to action does very poorly with other segments. There are two basic ways to segment your audience:

1) People can segment themselves by responding to a call to action like filling out a registration forms on your website, which can give you demographic information such as their location, age, gender, etc. This is decidedly the easier of the two options because it requires less research on the marketer’s end.

2) You can employ cookies (so previous customers are recognized when they return) and use site analytics to track users’ actions and find commonalities in behavior.

Once you have segmented your audience, it’s time to use what you know about them to define desired behaviors for each segment. Since each segment represents a different classification of buyer or potential buyer, you will want them to perform different actions when interacting with your content. For instance, a desired action of a new customer is to get them to fill out a registration form, while a desired action of a current customer is to get them to explore new products.

After you have defined your segment behaviors, you will use everything you have created and learned so far about your segments to customize content on a per-segment basis. A simple way to start this process is by creating a dynamic zone within your website and other content vehicles where content is tailored based on each visitor’s segment identity.

The primary challenge with the practice of audience segmentation is striking a balance between forming sub-audiences that are as niche as possible while minimizing messages and channels to cut down on cost and time. This is especially true for smaller companies, which often don’t have the resources to perform the tracking and research necessary to define uber-specific segments.

Another challenge is finding the time and/or money to complete the audience segmentation implementation process. Someone at some point has to sit down and mull through the data, generate groups, and prepare multiple mailing lists for the segmented groups, and in smaller companies where outsourcing to an expensive firm is not an option, this type of work is often left to junior staff who may lack the expertise to do the job well. Because of the time-consuming and/or costly nature of audience segmentation, it is a task that is often conducted in an ad hoc way for a specific important marketing campaign then dropped, or is simply ignored.

However, by tailoring your efforts using audience segmentation you can greatly improve the effectiveness of your marketing through the use of content, channels, and messaging that are most relevant to your audience segments. If you care about improving and optimizing your marketing strategy (…and you should…), audience segmentation is worth the investment.

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