Friday, 13 April 2012

When not to segment

I’m a committed believer in the value of audience segmentation, but I’m also wary of absolute statements (indeed a researcher is, almost by definition, someone who thinks that the facts of a situation should affect your response to it). So whilst I’m broadly in agreement with Rachel Ann Poling’s post here, it did get me thinking about what the exceptions would be to the rule that segmentation is always a good idea.

An obvious place to start would be politics in a First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system. Whilst it may be possible to get more ‘engagement’ from groups with very specific policy concerns, you also need to get a sufficiently ‘broad church’ of supporters to get a majority.

Nonetheless, segmentation could still be useful in this context. The apparently standard transaction (all votes counting the same for a given party) neglects the fact that this vote means, and delivers, something different from different groups.  A party activist and a tactical voter who vote for the same candidate are each getting something different if that candidate is successful: one gets a ‘not-Labour’, ‘not-Lib-Dem’ or ‘not-Tory’ MP, the other someone who actively represents a particular viewpoint or viewpoints (e.g. is Eurosceptic, supports unions, is pro-devolution, campaigns for the local hospital etc).  Whilst they both get the same MP, from a marketing perspective the transaction is still different.

Political parties know this, of course. As the famous Worcester Woman and Motorway Man labels show, segmentation is, of course, widely used in politics (even under FPTP).

A situation that is closer to home is where there is a limited market for a distinctive offer and where different audience groups are prepared to compromise to get something that is at least close to what they want. To take Rachel’s (précis-ed) examples:
Older folks like the current concert format.  They like the quiet, ritualized way the concerts are put on, and the tried and true music that everybody loves. They say, “This music and concert form has been in place for hundreds of years, it is good enough for the present and the future.” Unfortunately, a sad truth of the world, older folks eventually pass away and there isn’t a new generation of classical music fans to replace them.

Younger folks don’t care for the formal etiquette in place at symphony concerts.  They like hearing new music, and being able to interact more with the orchestra.  They like their mobile phones, and the more interactive nature of a concert from their favorite band.  Classical music has become uncool to the current generation, and alot of the uncool comes from the strict etiquette and unvaried repertoire (it is viewed as elitist, or even worse, boring).

So, how should symphonies meet the needs of both the older generation, and the younger generation? 

Which one is right?

It’s Not Possible

Yep, that’s right.  It’s not possible.

Walking the middle road just leaves you with dissatisfied customers on both ends.
This makes sense, in most scenarios. More traditional types of concerts may seem a little formal, stuffy or plain long for some younger audiences.  A ‘pint in a plastic cup’, ‘tweet during performances’ and ‘come and go when you like’ set-up may not be to the taste of some older audiences.  Of course, people won’t neatly stick to these groups (some younger audiences will prefer the former, some older audiences the latter). But, either group may be prepared to meet on a middle-ground if the alternative is an audience for either set-up that’s too small to be financially viable. Or to put it another way, they may compromise if the alternative is no classical music at all.

Of course, there are a host of counter-arguments. If it’s nearer their taste, they’ll (probably) attend more often. Be more likely to recommend it. More likely to support in other ways. Catering for a smaller pool of frequent attenders is also more cost-effective (although it may not fare so well against an organisation’s social mission). And it might make for a better atmosphere (‘compromise’ isn’t the obvious starting point for the thrill of a live performance). But I wouldn’t stop attending concerts based on whether they wore T-shirts or ‘proper’ shirts with collars and, if I lived in a rural area, I’d be too grateful for ‘flicks-in-the-sticks’ to complain if they only served salted popcorn.

Not segmenting is (contrary to how it may at first appear) a risky strategy and it’s not usually a good idea. But there may be occasions (notably when it’s a very niche activity or the overall market size is very small) where a ‘middle way’ may be preferable to segmenting.

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