The Problem with Consumer Segmentation
I think consumer segmentation is a great tool. I admire marketers who have the discipline and focus to build brands around segments.
But segmentation has a dark side. It causes us to dehumanize people. And when we dehumanize our consumers, our brands suffer.
Brands that connect with their consumers on a deeply human level, on the other hand, are more likely to…
- Win their lasting loyalty;
- Turn them into passionate advocates;
- Command a premium price.
Segments work because they allow us to simplify our worlds. Much like stereotypes, segments distill consumer needs to a handful of key dimensions.
Walter Lippmann, the godfather of our understanding of stereotypes, said…
“(Stereotypes) are an ordered more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world, people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things.”
Sounds pretty useful, right.
But as Lippmann went on to warn, stereotypes also cause us to “(project) upon the world of our own sense or our own value, our own position, and our own rights. They are the fortress of our traditions…”
Segments work the same way.
They represent a view of the consumer through the narrow lens of category behavior. That’s our lens, not there’s. And it is a lens that reduces human beings to a fraction of their total selves.
When we reduce people to a tiny set of focused attributes, we gloss over the complexities that make them human. And that makes it hard for us to truly empathize with them. And when we fail to empathize, we miss opportunities for our brands.
Think about the labels we give our segments. “Young Invincibles,”Up-and-Comers,” “Pools & Patios.” “How much of the complexity of a human being do these labels encompass?
We would never dream of telling an individual consumer that he or she is an “Image Seeker,” “Traditionalist” or “Kids & Careers.” Why is that? Because deep down we know that all of us hate to be stereotyped.
Now you might say that as marketers, we are only interested in the attributes of people that drive behavior in our category.
I don’t agree.
Brands that truly connect with people do so by creating an identity built on shared beliefs. It’s hard to know your consumers’ core beliefs – the ones that make them human — without empathy. And in order to empathize, we need to understand the whole person.
So, where does this leave us?
I’d encourage you to push beyond one-dimensional segment labels and get to know your consumers as human beings.
How? Here are a few suggestions.
- Have conversations with them instead of studying them.
- Talk to them about their lives rather than focusing solely on your brand.
- Empathize with them the way you’d empathize with a friend. Ask yourself, “What do I have in common with this person as a human being?
Only then will you begin to make truly human connections with the people who are your consumers. And only then will your brand matter to them in a way that creates lasting loyalty, passionate advocacy and a willingness to pay more for what you’re offering.
Thanks for reading. What are you thoughts?