Achieve sweet success with marketing segmentation

You can’t get away with “spray and pray” marketing any longer. Columnist Mary Wallace details how to segment your audience and tailor your messaging for optimal results.


No matter how big or small your company or department is, to achieve success in today’s environment, you need to get personal with your customers and prospects. The more personal you are, the more closely you can align your solution with your audience’s needs. This means more conversions and buyers.

But how do you get personal in a world where email service providers (think MailChimp) or marketing automation solutions (think Eloqua) are commonplace in every business? Come on! Everybody knows these tools are for reaching a wide audience at an ever-escalating frequency.

Enter the concept of segmentation. The Economic Times defines segmentation as a “means to divide the marketplace into parts, or segments, which are definable, accessible, actionable, and profitable and have growth potential.”

The reality is, segmentation is so much more! By slicing your database into different sections, you can send emails (and direct mail pieces) that are customized to appear as though they are truly one-to-one conversations.

And the result of well-structured segments?

  • 39 percent of marketers who segment see higher open rates, while 34 percent experience lower unsubscribe rates, eMarketer reported several years ago — and the impact is likely to be even higher in today’s cluttered environment.
  • Tim Swindle of Pointdrive shares that companies generate higher conversion rates and deeper sales conversations when they segment their audiences appropriately.

Chart your course

Successful segmentation efforts don’t happen in a vacuum. They are a key part of the overall marketing strategy. As Conor Wilcock, research director at market research agency B2B International, puts it:

Segmentation is closely linked to value marketing — it enables businesses to better communicate the value of [their] offerings by prioritizing key target audiences — and should be first on the agenda when it comes to informing marketing strategy.

Begin your segmentation efforts by conducting an in-depth analysis of your audience and your customer database. Then, based on this research, define categories and assign individuals to them based on specific data points. Through this process, you create the segments you’ll employ for future communication.

With further analysis, marketers can uncover what type of content should be created for each segment and the best medium for distributing that messaging (e.g., email, direct mail, social).

Segmentation also helps marketers focus on the right audience. Your research could help you discover segments that aren’t engaging despite significant effort, leading you to turn your attention to a segment that appears to be highly engaged.

Data points that matter

Understanding your audience and its members’ characteristics is key to segmentation. Go beyond standard firmographics to include buying behavior, needs and pain points. Use both implicit and explicit data points.

Start with explicit or firmographic data first. This includes data points like job function, company size, industry and location.

Standardize the data in your audience database. Free-form data is difficult to work with and is inherently error-prone. For example, a free-form title field could contain “Biz Dev Mgr,” “Business Development,” or “Sales Manager,” all of which refer to the same job function. Making mistakes in assigning people to segments is almost impossible to avoid in this situation.

Picklists, check boxes or radio buttons are great options for receiving standardized data. A side benefit is that it’s easier for a customer to respond to them on a mobile device.

Implicit data points, which come from engagement or digital body language, are extremely valuable in segmentation strategy. What a customer or prospect opens, clicks on and visits tells us what they are interested in, who they are and where they are in the buying process.

Mapping interactions into categories for segmentation provides a laser focus into a customer’s or prospect’s needs. Examples include: stage in the buyer’s journey; persona/role in the buying process; and pain points or needs based on engagement with content.

Purchase history data can also bolster the segmentation effort. Previous purchases, purchasing frequency and purchase size, all impact how you should speak to your customer or prospect and what to say to them.

Putting segments to work

The more concise the segment, the more personal and effective the communication. Jay Conrad Levinson, author of “Guerilla Marketing,” notes that “[s]egmentation is saying something to somebody instead of saying nothing to everybody.”

With defined segments, you can target content, emails and calls-to-action directly to known traits (pain points, needs, job function and so on).

Yes, creating content, campaigns and messaging tailored to each segment requires more effort than the “spray and pray” technique enabled by email service providers. And the more targeted and specific the segments, the more effort is needed.

That doesn’t mean you have to boil the ocean all at one time. Start small. Build out specific campaigns, communication tools and content over time.

And track your results by segment. Know which segments are producing dramatic results and which ones are underperforming. For the ones that are underperforming, perhaps it’s time to shift your attention elsewhere. Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of modifying the message or content to better meet the needs of the segment members.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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