A New “Golden Age” for Customer Segmentation?

I still remember my first time. Some 25 years ago as a young marketing executive at the PGA of America, I hypothesized that profiling golfers by simply looking at behavioral metrics like annual rounds of golf played, wasn’t helping us to capture their emotional connection to the game that could potentially trigger more resonant marketing communication. This launched my initial foray into attitudinal segmentation research. Deploying a classic two part cluster and factor analysis, we birthed segments like “Public Pundits,” “Dilettante Duffers,” “Country Club Traditionals” and “Pull Carts” that succinctly described both the mindset of a golf market that was clearly far from the homogenous mass that many had previously ascribed to participants of the sport.

Since that time, I’ve deployed attitudinal segmentation on numerous other occasions. The aforementioned golfer study evolved into multiple subsequent iterations that I completed for numerous clients. Some of the more recent versions can be seen as part of available presentations for download on our website, www.sportsandleisureresearch.com. But along the way, as fascinating and insightful as clients and I found these studies, the one gnawing void left by attitudinal segmentation was in its limitations as largely descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

It was certainly beneficial to know that “Segment X” significantly out-indexed all others for strong agreement with a particular attitudinal statement. We could counsel our client to use this insight to frame particular messaging targeted to a particular segment. By ascribing segments to a well drawn population sample, and cross tabulating each against various reported behaviors and demographics, we could determine the size and relative attractiveness of each segment. But it still didn’t help clients to find or speak directly to them.

Today we’ve moved into a digitally driven, “big data” laden world, where relationship marketers are replete with transactional data and can often track behaviors of best customers in real time. Armed with the types of profile data and attitudinal hot buttons often uncovered in traditional segmentation work, a marketer and his or her CRM system can quickly align these data points and push appropriate messaging to customers at key inflection points along a purchase funnel. Perhaps one of the best examples from our firm’s current work can be seen both in the resort and sports marketing space, where the interconnectivity of traditional segmentation, digital marketing assets and behavioral data can efficiently align and deploy highly targeted offers.

But these are applications that aren’t always naturally assumed to be the domain of “traditional marketing researchers.” I’ve maintained for years that the rightful place of marketing research needs to be at the intersection of insight and strategy. Such an evolved approach to the application of customer segmentation work is just one example of how MR practitioners can move into a more central place in the deployment of marketing strategy. Indeed, segmentation may finally be able to fill its former void and become an actionable lever for marketing strategy.

Jon Last is President of Sports and Leisure Research Group, a full service marketing research consultancy serving the sports, travel and media sectors with consultative custom research. Learn more at www.sportsandleisureresearch.com

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