New Segmentation Strategies for the Digital Age

This is a guest post by Chris Martin at FlexMR. With a relentless focus on consumer experience, Chris is skilled in managing online communications. Combined with an in-depth knowledge of the digital era and a sharp analytical mind, he creatively develops the FlexMR brand in accordance with a constantly evolving industry.


Segmentation is a key skill in business, marketing and market research. Knowing who your audience are is vital to targeting the correct communications and research activities towards them. Traditionally, segmentation has been based on simple geographic and demographic factors. More advanced classification methods such as the ACORN model group consumers by common traits such as thriving, expanding, rising, settling and striving.

More recently, demographics have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as a simple way to understand generational cohorts. But many of these fall short. These are the old ways to separate consumers and participants. Technology has ushered in a new era, which can help you segment research participants in new, and more relevant ways than ever before. They are crucial to understanding your consumers, your audience, detractors and the interplay between them which forms the public perception of your brand. These are the top four new segmentation methods that we believe will help improve the quality of future research.

1. Segmenting by Audience Personas

Customer personas are by no means a new concept. But the popularity of content marketing has firmly implanted them into our minds. The inbound methodology states your customers cannot simply be grouped by age, location or income alone. Instead you should focus on building profiles of customers (and non-customers) that are uniquely relevant to your organisation. These personas may include demographic elements, but they take this one step further. Personas are archetypes: sharing a common story, goals and challenges. Building these for research can take some investment. The process requires you to have a basic understanding of the different groups that purchase from you already, meaning it is not ideal for exploratory research. But for understanding specific problems or pain points in your customers’ experiences, audience personas are a perfect strategy.

2. Segmenting by Social Influence

The second segmentation strategy we would recommend considering is social influence. Popularised by online tools such as Klout and Social Mention, influence is a rough measure of how much weight each individual’s opinion carries. In a research setting, this can be applied in two ways. The first is when using passive social media monitoring techniques, it is possible to segment your research participants by influence and discover how opinion is filtered, diverges and converges between the groups. The second application is in private online research communities in which participants can be segmented by their contribution to the community. This helps separate the top commenters from the listeners, and everyone in between. By making this distinction, you are able to target participants with more personalised, timely and relevant reminders to engage in discussions. In addition to the prompting benefits, this hierarchical form of segmentation allows you to target specific research tasks to the more or less engaged where required. 

3. Time & Event Based Segmentation

Though event based segmentation has been discussed multiple times in the past, it has only recently become viable through advances in technology and tracking.Bing Pulse is the most prominent early example of this segmentation method in use. Rather than having to approximate the demographic profiles of those watching or involved in your event, you can now target them directly. What’s more is that the feedback is instant, giving you the ability to make real-time changes that have an immediate impact. We, as researchers, have barely scratched the surface of these new technologies – but the possibilities are vast and exciting. Imagine being able to gather real-time feedback throughout public events which can help shape & improve delivery in real time. One particularly interesting use for this is during televised or digital advertising campaigns. Providing simple qualitative feedback throughout the event can help advertisers pinpoint the exact moment that audiences lose interest or experience a change in opinion – leading to the ability to build better, more impactful campaigns in the future.

4. Segmenting by Individual

The holy grail of qualitative research has always been segmentation by individual. Participants are unique, everybody has their own opinions, thoughts and behaviours – so why shouldn’t we treat them this way? The difficulty, however, arises from scale. Businesses do not have a single consumer, they have thousands (and an ever wider audience). So making changes based on the feedback of a single consumer, or even a handful, is difficult – no matter how profound the insight. But technology is beginning to bridge the gap between individual segmentation and scale. How? In part, through extended personalisation of a brand. Changes no longer need to be made to the entire company based on the feedback of a single consumer, but can be made to that particular consumer (or consumer group’s) unique experience. The second way scale can be achieved on an individual basis is through text analytics. Online research provides a transcript which can automatically be analysed for key themes, sentiment and words – allowing you to build up a holistic profile of your research participants.

While individual segmentation en-masse is still not quite within our grasp, research is marching ever closer towards it. The closer we become, the more ethical questions are raised. At what point does researching an individual and personalising the experience become a sales activity? How do we protect participant data when we hold so much? How can misuse of this data be prevented? All of these questions will be vital as segmentation methods become more sophisticated and advanced.

Have you used any of the segmentation methods on this list? Which do you think will be the most important over the coming months? Connect with us and let us know your opinion on the exciting and diverse future of participant segmentation.



Read more about FlexMR's industry leading market research software. Or, watch a two minute demo of their online market research tools.

This post was included on Sue Bell's Bellbird blog. Subscribe to the Bellbird newsletter

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