Television and radio commercials are effective in part because they’re the same on every channel. With catch phrases, jingles, mascots, and more, the methods brands use to enforce consistency don’t change based on the network sharing the commercial. However, as much as the singularity of commercials is a benefit, it’s also a negative. If someone doesn’t like your song, joke, spokesperson, or the specific pain point your message is exploring, the chance to show them a different message on another channel is limited to creating an entirely new ad.
But in the digital realm, the opportunity to share your core message with different audiences in different ways is far more achievable. Users on today’s digital “channels” like email, social media, your website, and mobile browsers aren’t all gathering around the same types of devices, or looking for the same show. But, when they find one they like, they want to tune in over and over, just like viewers always have. By figuring out what different types of people make up an audience, and serving them the kind of content and information they like best, marketers can make better use of digital channels like Facebook to speak to unique audiences about a consistent brand message, and capture their attention where they want to watch.
Starting Segmentation with Email Lists
For many businesses, email marketing is a key entry point into the world of audience segmentation. Businesses commonly use emails not just to get their content in front of a captive audience, but to learn more about their audiences’ preferences by monitoring the actions they take. Two of the most commonly measured actions are opens (Who opened this email?) and click-throughs (What did people click on inside the email?). Depending on how you build your email subscriber lists, you can separate your audiences—either automatically depending on actions users take on your website, or manually as you add new addresses to your lists—in order to serve different groups messages most likely to resonate with them.
MailChimp found that emails sent to audiences segmented based on at least one category were opened 14% more frequently, and had 100% more click-throughs than non-segmented content,1 so even starting small is starting somewhere. Think about which of the following four categories might be most helpful in thinking about your specific audience’s motivations, and begin your segmentation strategy by thinking up different segments your audience might fit into:
- Geographically: Local customers may need or value different information than your national ones. On your email subscription forms, you can ask for an address or even just a city or state in order to group your subscribers by location.
- Demographically: Customers may value different services or products based on age, level of education, gender, income level, and more. Premium content offers like guides, white papers, and eBooks can be written to appeal to different demographics.2 When someone fills out a form to download an offer, you’ll then know a bit more about how to group that new subscriber based on what you can infer about their demographics from their chosen download.
When applied in tandem, geographic and demographic targeting is a great start to audience segmentation. Once these have gotten a business started, though, more advanced segmentation can help them refine these groups even further.
- Behaviorally: Customers who have gone through certain stages with your brand can be served different content. For instance, someone who has already purchased something from your business could go into a different segment than someone who hasn’t.3 Email marketing software like HubSpot or ActiveCampaign can trigger different email messages depending on a subscriber’s activity on your website.
- Psychographically: Customers can be served different content based on either directly-stated or implied lifestyles, personalities, and values. For instance, you might group self-identified budget-conscious leads in a different segment than others.4 You can use premium content to group subscribers psychographically, just as you’d use it to group them demographically.
Audiences want to feel understood and appreciated by the companies they do business with.
As you begin using email to segment your audiences like this, keep in mind that these general approaches to segmentation are not limited to email marketing. Email is a great way to get your feet wet with segmentation, and what you learn with email can be easily applied to your audiences on social media, as well.
Addressing Your Social Audience
Facebook is another easy place to begin experimenting with audience segmentation. It’s simple to build a very specific target audience based on users’ social activities, profiles, and the other brands and pages they follow. Facebook, for example, makes it easy for brands to create custom target audiences around very specific user information. Then, for only a few dollars a day, you can promote your content to one group and see how they respond.
Because it’s so easy to segment social audiences and deliver them different messages, it’s important to think about how you can apply a consistent brand strategy across all your social content. No matter who you’re sharing to, it’s important to keep a few basics in mind to ensure consistency and brand cohesion:
- Voice and Tone: Just like some brands are known for funny or moving advertisements, you want your brand to be known consistently for evoking some emotion. That may be confidence, inspiration, delight, or surprise, but make sure all your posts on all channels keep it in mind. You may only be tweeting a few characters or sharing a link from someone else, but if an air of duplicity develops, it could lead to trouble. 91% of customers want or expect the companies they do business with to be authentic in their social media posts, whatever that truth looks like.5
- Shareability: With that note on authenticity in mind, it’s also important to focus on writing content that your audience will want to share with others. Positive content that provides interesting or useful information has been shown across studies to be most likely to be shared. Audience segmentation will empower marketers to speak in a resonant way to the passions and values of their key customer groups, and create content they want to share with others.6
- Images and Visuals: While the wording of your posts is critical, the images associated with them are equally important. In an analysis of over 1000 articles, BuzzSumo found those with an image every 100 words or so got double the social shares of those with less or no images. Facebook posts with images get 2.3X the engagement of those without.7 As with your phrasing, consider the emotional connotations of images before using to ensure the image is in line with your core branding.
Personalized marketing is poised to go from something innovative and new to something expected by consumers.
Depending on the number of social channels you choose, achieving this consistency can get complex quickly. Automation tools and other strategies will be essential to make sure that your audience receives the same consistent voice from your brand, regardless of the specific content they receive depending on their segment.
Segmenting Mobile Audiences with Ads and SMS
2016 was the first year in which more people on average used phones to access the Internet than laptops and desktops, and the trend didn’t change in 2017. By 2020, it’s expected that marketers will spend more on mobile advertising than TV advertising.8 But if you’re not ready to set a team of developers to work building an app to serve your customers, don’t worry; there are a lot more options on the spectrum of mobile marketing you can still take advantage of to speak to certain audience segments at different points in their buying journey. Some of those, like mobile display ads or native ads, can seem like more of a return to traditional digital advertising as you try to convey an impactful message using a banner image or sidebar.
And while that might seem simple on the surface, the reality of both display ads and native ads is that they can be highly contextual, changing depending on the content of the webpage or app they’re being displayed on. If, for example, you have decided to segment audiences psychographically depending on their interests, you can serve completely different ads to websites that align with those different interests. Each ad, then, allows you to share a message that’s specifically designed for customers with a certain interest, freeing you from having to message to other customers who might not share that interest related to your brand.
Text message/SMS marketing is another strategy for mobile advertising, one that requires careful planning for key groups but can yield big returns. In 2017, the average SMS campaign had a 32% response rate, compared to 23% for email. Plus, 90% of the texts are read within the first three minutes of being sent, unlike email, which may go unread forever.9 If you’re interested in trying this approach, you’ll need to consider timing of the messages, the content (like special offers or promotions), and also register with the US Common Short Codes Registry to get approval to conduct the campaign.10
A consistent theme between all these marketing strategies is that audiences want to feel understood by the companies they do business with. This is why audience segmentation is essential. A targeted email campaign speaking directly to their needs, a social media contest that inspires their creativity, or a perfectly-timed text to pique their interest will turn customers into brand advocates. However, customers also want to feel they understand the businesses they support. Whatever the channels it makes most sense for your brand to broadcast on, your new advocates need to be able to recognize your content when they see it. Otherwise, you’ll just seem like white noise and static, and their attention will move on.