Oi Marketing! We need better segmentation and targeting not none!

I’m taking issue with Marketing magazine last week – 18th Jan. They’ve fallen into the media trap of sensationalist headlines that throw the baby out with the bathwater…

‘Shift’ (p19) gave a timely reminder that we all need to think about consumers in a multi-dimensional way, as any consumer segment is full of contradictions.

But it’s certainly not true that ‘the days of the defined target market are over’ (headline). Quite the opposite.

With how hard it is for brands to build loyalty profitably, it’s never been more important for marketers to have the discipline of WHO are we aiming at, and WHY would they be interested in us – ie. Targeting and positioning. The trick is in how the target market is defined, and how the marketers use that definition to understand their ideal consumers in a rich multidimensional way that inspires them to great marketing that makes a real connection.

A key barrier is often the capability within the marketers to understand and apply the multidimensional perspective that can be provided by brilliant segmentations. And to go beyond the data and get out there and understand these people – depth interviews, ethnography, co-creation groups, whatever it takes to live and breathe whichever part of the market you are trying to delight. Some brand teams and businesses are way too reductionist, taking a rich segmentation and boiling it down to a one-liner. They’re missing the point – it’s the contradictions and layers that make great segmentations interesting, and provide potential for rich brand differentiation. Yet I’ve had energy clients ‘shocked’ that a segment of ‘fuel poor’ consumers were also concerned about the environment, and telecoms clients ‘surprised’ that mums on the school run will talk about their mobile phones to each other.

But it’s not that the nature of people has drastically changed. Consumers have always been individual, cultural magpies not cardboard cut-outs. It’s just that now it seems more obvious, more complex, more interconnected, and changes more rapidly. The issue is that many brand marketers have lost the art of dealing with richness and finding inspiration in contradiction. In their rushed schedules of reports, presentations, meetings and one-pagers, it’s an ‘inconvenient truth’ that consumers just can’t be summarised so easily

It’s the reality that without being able to target a group of people, and have in mind who you really want to engage with and have love your brand, the brand team (and communications) loses an essential focus, and ends up trying to be everything to everyone. Perhaps all marketers could benefit from thinking MORE about who they want to engage, and standing in their shoes. Equally brand teams (and agencies) often need to sharpen up who the brand is, and who it is not. And be able to articulate why this group of people would be interested in this brand. Because if they’re not sure, the consumer sure as hell won’t be, regardless of how richly you understand them. It’s about making tough choices.

Segmentation, targeting and positioning are alive and well, and essential basics of marketing. It’s just the WAY to do them well is evolving, as the consumer landscape changes.

So please, let’s not encourage marketers to throw the basics of marketing out of the window, but instead to up their game to define, understand and engage with the brand’s ideal target in a far sharper and multidimensional way…