Your marketing is a well-oiled machine. You have marketing campaigns running across many channels, and your content is delivering huge amounts of value to your audience.
Yet things could be better. Optimization is a key priority for marketers, but where do you start?
The answer: Audience segmentation.
Segmenting your customers is the fastest way to boost the performance of your marketing. By identifying key characteristics of your customers, you can develop the right message and target the best channels to attract them.
In this article, I’ll show you how to uncover these characteristics, and how to apply them to four of the most common (and critical) marketing channels.
Start with laser-focused messaging
Your message is the foundation of your marketing machine. Therefore, this is where you must always start.
The philosophy is simple: deliver personalized messaging to carefully defined audience segments in order to better serve them and increase conversions.
Every channel we’ll talk about from here depends on this step. In this section, you’ll learn how to properly segment your customers and develop the right messaging. These insights will then be used to create personas, to help guide your efforts and keep your teams on the same page.
Segmenting customers with market data
Market segmentation requires a sophisticated understanding of your customers. This means looking at a broader range of data to get a more informed picture of your customers.
Marketers often rely on a qualitative approach, using surveys and conducting customer interviews to yield insight. This is still key, but a more data-driven approach is required.
This usually starts with demographic data, but rarely goes much further. Having granular data on behavior and insights will help you understand your customers needs and serve relevant content to them.
These are the four types of data you should be collecting:
- Demographic Data: Characteristics that indicate buying behavior i.e. what they buy, how they buy it and why they need or desire it.
- Purchase Data: Turns engagement data into indicators of purchase. This indicates who follows and buys from a brand.
- Social Behavior: Shows how social groups behave and interact with each other, as well as the brands they follow.
- Financial Data: Fundamental to pricing strategy, this insight shows how well a price tag fits with a segment (e.g. holiday campsite or luxury camping?)
Using this data, you can identify your best customers and most engaged followers. Here are some example demographics of top engagers for haircare brand DevaCurl:
Understanding commonalities in gender, age and ethnicity will allow you to better direct your marketing, from the emails you send to the influencers you work with.
These decisions don’t stop at demographics. Here’s an example of purchase data from the same segment, demonstrating their commercial habits and affiliations:
Collect as much data on your customers as possible. This will help build accurate persona documents on each segment as you begin to develop and refine them.
Talk to your customers
I’ll be honest: while data is compulsory in today’s marketing climate, it’s important to remember to do things that don’t scale.
Take customer interviews for example. Qualitative research used to be the cornerstone of understanding your customers. Now it easily falls by the wayside.
By coupling both market data with qualitative insights, you get a complete picture of your customers needs. You just need to ask them for it.
Let’s start by asking the right questions. Marketers often make the mistake of asking misleading questions, which look like this:
- What features would you look for in X product?
- Would you buy a product that does X?
- How much would you be willing to spend on X product?
With these questions, you’ll end up hunting for product validation, not customer insight. Instead, you must ask questions that uncover who your customers are, as well as their needs, desires, and challenges.
Think about how your brand helps people. Uncovering baseline challenges are the first step. These are questions like:
- What do you find most difficult about X (job role, specific task etc.)?
- What was most challenging about this?
- What do you love most about X (camping, makeup etc.)?
- What don’t you love about X?
These questions are all designed to uncover their desires, challenges, and headaches. This is important information to collect when building your personas.
Surveys are also useful when organizing this insight into accurately defined customer segments. Demographic-based questions will allow you to build personas that represent those you talk to.
Ask multiple-choice questions about gender, age, and interests. For example, an ecommerce site selling camping gear could ask what their audience is most interested in, for example:
- Wild camping
- Basic outdoor tent setup
This insight on their deepest needs and wants, coupled with market data, will empower you to accurately direct your marketing message.
You now have quantitative data coupled with the insights generated from customer interviews. With it, you can put together accurate personas and define your customer segments.
Defining your customer segments
Documented personas are, without a doubt, the best way to clearly communicate your customer segments. It keeps your entire organization on the same page with who you’re serving. Plus it will help guide your marketing efforts across all channels.
Buyer/marketing/customer personas – call them what you want. Let’s dig into how to create one.
Start with a creative and descriptive name. For the glampers in the previous section, we could give them the name “Glamping Grace.” This creates a human element, and you should even go as far as adding a profile picture based on your understanding of them.
Record all demographic information down, including age range, household income, and geographic location. Salary, educational and family information must also be included when possible.
Next, take the insight from your customer interviews and distill them into common challenges and desires. For Glamping Grace, these could include:
“I love nature, but I hate wet wipes and cramped tents.”
“I want my kids to experience the great outdoors with the organization of a four-star holiday.”
Pay attention to the language they use. Create a separate section in your persona document for buzz words, as these will be handy for your copywriting efforts.
The result should look something like this (image taken from The Persona Playbook):
Get creative with the layout and delivery of your persona documents. As you talk with your customers, you may find there’s room for other categories. A more diverse persona will always lead to better marketing.
Now you’ve segmented and defined your customers, I’ll show you how to apply these insights to your marketing efforts.
Boost SEO effectiveness with segmented keyword research
SEO traffic is the holy grail of marketing. If you can secure and maintain first page rankings for top keywords, you’ll enjoy a steady stream of targeted traffic.
The game has changed in recent years. Search intent and behavior has become more sophisticated, requiring marketers to do the same.
Keyword research is the cornerstone of a good SEO strategy. But it’s no longer simply about broad or long-tail keywords.
Let’s first look at some common keyword segments, followed by more sophisticated methods of keyword targeting.
Common keyword segments
The most common keyword segment is commercial intent. In the B2C world, money-phrases are the most sought-after keyword type. These include words like “buy,” “shop,” “online,” “order,” etc.
Micro-moments are another common segment, which clearly identifies the context and intent of the searcher. The user typically begins these searches with “I want…” For example:
- I want to know [THING]
- I want to go [PLACE]
- I want to buy [THING]
- I want to do [ACTIVITY]
While these give marketers a method of being perceived as the right choice, there is still variation in commercial intent.
For example, users searching “I want to know” and “I want to do” are usually looking for an instant result (often in the form of knowledge). They want an answer to their query fast, which likely means they’re not looking to buy.
Whereas “I want to go” and “I want to buy” indicates strong commercial intent. The former could be a restaurant, coffee shop or retail outlet, while the latter has a high chance of leading to a sale.
While these are incredibly sought-after keyword segments, they’re also in high demand. The competitive landscape can be tough, which is why alternative segments are needed at all stages of the buying cycle.
Alternative keyword segments
So, how can you get an advantage over the competition?
“Alternative products” is one keyword segment that provides many opportunities. For example, “luxury camping” is an alternative to “glamping.” Looking at the data, it’s clear that we’ve already stumbled upon one “alternative keyword:”
Glamping has a higher amount of searches and a lower competition, which makes it appealing. However, the “Suggested bid” column is a strong indicator of commercial intent. Brands are willing to spend a higher amount for “luxury camping,” which suggests a stronger ROI.
So, which should you choose to pursue?
Test them both! Use PPC campaigns to measure ROI. Then you can make a decision to put resources into ranking for one, or even both.
Segmenting by awareness
Finally, segment your keywords by level of awareness. These are the stages your customer goes through as they become aware of their needs and your brand:
- Needs awareness: Your customer is looking for an answer to their question, but they’re unsure what the solution is.
- Solution awareness: The customer understands the landscape and what their options could be. But they’re not yet aware of yours.
- Specific solution awareness: They know your solution exists, but they’re unaware of the benefits.
- Benefit awareness: They know how your solution will help them, but they’ve not yet been persuaded.
- Purchase: They’re ready to buy!
At the first step, they’re aware of a desire or need but not how to solve it. This will inspire searches like “how to” and “I want to” to research and figure things out.
In the second step, they’ve found out what these solutions are. “Glamping” and “luxury camping” are two examples of this. In the third step, they should be aware of your brand and what it has to offer.
Step four might lead them to review sites and product pages. They’ll be looking for the best solution for them based on the information they find.
At step five, they’ll be using keywords like “buy,” “book,” and “order.” This is where you’ll generate the greatest ROI.
As you can see, SEO isn’t a linear process – and neither is the customer journey. In fact, the customer is now in charge of their own journey. This not only means targeting the right keywords but also creating the best content that guides them towards the next step.
Content marketing: Make every piece count
As Seth Godin once put it, “Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left.”
And rightly so! It’s designed to deliver educational and entertaining value to your audience. But content for the sake of it isn’t enough. You must carefully identify challenges and map the right content to each stage of the customer lifecycle.
Luckily for you, you already know what your customers’ challenges are. The next step is to map them to the customer lifecycle.
Mapping content to the customer lifecycle
The customer lifecycle is a simple model. It will help you to map which stage a customer is in the buying process. There are five stages, which are:
- Awareness: Identification of problem/desire. Awareness that your product/service can help fulfill it.
- Consideration: Evaluation of how exactly you meet these needs, as well as that of your competition.
- Preference & Intent: A logical and emotional decision has been made towards one solution or another.
- Purchase: The action of ordering/going through checkout.
- Retention & Advocacy: Delighting your customers enough to inspire repeat purchases, subscription retention, and word-of-mouth referrals.
This looks a lot like the awareness keyword segments from the previous section, which means you know which keywords to target. But what does this content look like? Let’s look at the format your content should take to cater to each stage of the lifecycle.
As you know, people are constantly searching for the solutions to their problems. This journey often starts with a process of discovery — searching for how-to guides and education.
Your job is to generate awareness of your brand by providing content that provides this education. Not only that, your content must be better than anything else available.
What are the common challenges you discovered from your customer conversations? What can be solved with content?
For example, the Glamping Grace’s aren’t sure what to look for when buying equipment. From this, we can brainstorm these content ideas:
- “Buying a Sleeping Bag: The Glamper’s Guide”
- “7 Things to Look for When Buying a Glamping Tent”
- “14 Camping Cooking Utensils For Glampers”
This kind of content illustrates exactly what your audience is looking for. Relevant formats for this kind of content include:
- Blog posts
- Email newsletters
- Tools (calculators, quizzes, etc.)
The objective of this content is to attract traffic and convert visitors into subscribers or leads. From here, it’s your job to educate them on your solution.
Now they know what to look for in a tent, you must help them evaluate which one to choose.
As you’ve already provided content that helps them with this, half of the work is already done. But you still need to build trust. This is where testimonials, case studies and other forms of content will come into play.
Customer stories are also incredibly compelling, especially in video form. Can you demonstrate how your customers use your product in action?
For our camping example, this could include shots of a beautiful landscape, the camper unzipping their tent in the morning before boiling water for their coffee. Include a voice over that describes their experience and you’re on to a great piece of content.
This is where your website will do the heavy lifting. Your product pages, copy, design, and imagery must all bring out the best in what you’re selling.
This is also the best time to collect additional contact information. Product descriptions, sales pages, and demos are key in building trust and persuading your audience to do business with you.
Some customers may need a little nudge when persuading them to hand you their credit card details. Purchase content helps make the deal sweeter and comes in the form of:
- Coupons: Give a percentage off the listed price. Works well with remarketing campaigns to combat cart abandonment.
- Last chance emails: Send an email when something is about to sell out, or when you’re closing the doors to a product/event.
- Display ads: More aggressive PPC and social ad campaigns targeted at these users can help persuade them to buy.
Don’t forget that the checkout process itself should be considered here. Ensure you’re doing everything you can to prevent abandonment. Add “trust badges” to show that their financial details are secure is key.
As you collect data on your customer’s’ buying habits, you’ll be able to send marketing for other, relevant products and services.
Amazon does this better than anyone. Soon after placing an order, you’ll see display ads for relevant products, as well as “People also bought” when you head to their website:
You’ll even see these recommendations in your order confirmation email, striking while the iron is hot.
The most effective way to retain customers, however, is to delight them with such a great experience that they can’t help but stick around. Packaging, customer service and surprises (such as bonuses) can turn a customer into a raving fan.
Hyper-targeted email marketing
Email marketing is one of those channels that has passed the test of time. Segmentation is key, but if you’re simply relying on separate lists you’re missing out on better results.
If you’re new to segmentation or looking for some unseen gems, you’ll find some new approaches in these techniques that anyone can apply.
Segmenting by demographics
This is the most common form of email segmentation, but often goes overlooked. Age, location, income and job title can inform which emails you send to which customer segment.
When collecting new customer or subscriber information through a form, include some demographic information. For example, if you’re selling B2B software, then job title will be important. Whereas a fashion retailer would want to gather data on information such as gender.
Getting the right number of fields requires some trial and error. While it might be beneficial to include many demographic fields, it might cause abandonment due to form friction. Test your form length to find the sweet spot for conversions.
Segmenting by engagement
Cater your message to those who engage with your emails in different ways. This is another basic way of segmenting your emails, but it can go a long way.
Send different emails for those who open and click your emails. Let’s say you’re running a clearance sale on certain camping goods, and some respondents click-through on the first email.
Using the data within your email marketing service, you can amend the messaging and timing of the second for those who clicked. In this case, it would be considered contextual to send the second email earlier than those who did not even open the first. They’ve expressed interest, and so a reminder email is more likely to be welcome.
Segmenting by behavior
Emails can be triggered based on what users do on your website. Using technology such as MailChimp’s Goals feature, you can generate more data about your visitors’ interests.
You can send emails to users who did (or didn’t) visit certain pages, those who visited a certain page but skipped other relevant pages, or multimedia they engaged with (such as video).
This level of behavioral segmentation allows you to send well-timed emails, striking while the iron is hot. For example, if a customer adds an item to their cart, but leaves without reaching checkout, you can send an email to entice them back.
Segmenting by funnel position
This is by far one of the most powerful ways to segment your emails, and ties in with the lifecycle stages we covered in the previous section.
Identify which stage of the funnel your users are in, and serve them relevant content until they indicate further interest. Awareness content would involve educational and entertaining content, and your emails must deliver upon this.
On the other end, emails at the purchase stage would include discounts/coupons and other offers. They would also come in the form of triggered cart abandonment emails.
This provides you with an opportunity to follow-up to let them know the items they wanted are still in stock. You can also send behavioral emails based on the products they viewed, and email them with relevant offers.
Segmenting your email marketing works similar to content. You need to match your message to the lifecycle. With email, you have the added bonus of automating timed, compelling messages based on behavior. Get your targeting and timing right, and you’ll see email marketing ROI skyrocket.
Social media segmentation for stronger engagement
Social media has always been a platform for brand building and engaging with your audience.
But one question comes up again and again: “how can I improve the ROI I’m generating from social?”
It’s likely you’re already aware of the concept behind the segmentation techniques I’ve covered so far. But when it comes to social media segmentation, not many marketers are doing it.
Here’s how to segment your social media audience for better results.
Organic social targeting
Getting your organic social media posts to the right people is straightforward. In Facebook, you can select which of your followers see your post based on interests and demographics:
In LinkedIn, you can choose targeting options based on the size of company, industry, job function and location. If you’re in the B2B realm, this can be huge in making sure your message gets to the right decision maker.
Facebook Groups and Twitter lists are another great way to engage directly with different user segments. For example, you could create a luxury camping group to build a community of passionate Glamping Grace’s.
Use Twitter lists to keep track of your best customer and prospects. Place resources to constantly monitor the activity in these lists, engaging with customers in a way that contributes to the conversation and shows there’s a human behind the brand.
Paid social targeting
Organic segmentation gets the right people to your audience. Paid social media, however, allows you to expand that message to a wider audience.
Most of the dominant social networks now have some form of ad solution. For the sake of this guide, we’ll focus on Facebook Ads, as it’s still the most popular among them:
The power of Facebook ads lies in its targeting. Serve ads to users based on their location, age, gender and – most importantly – their interests:
What’s more, you can target people by their behavior. Travel habits, anniversaries and digital activities are all methods of identifying your audience.
The most powerful of these behavioral targeting features is in purchase behavior. Target people who have purchased anything from luxury goods to pet food:
Finally, there’s no better way to accurately target than to use your existing segments. With Lookalike Audiences, you can upload your email list and, providing they’re associated with a Facebook account, Facebook will then create a custom audience based on the interests and demographic of that list. This is a lucrative paid social media approach, as they typically have a high click-through rate than other types. Check out this guide from Driftrock to learn more and get started.
I’ll be honest. Market segmentation can be easy to get started with, but difficult to get right.
Categorizing your customers into different personas and making sure you understand their interests can be a daunting task. But once it’s done, it will pay off for many years.
What methods are you using to segment your audience? Do you have sophisticated methods of collecting and analyzing data?