Segmentation Marketing: Facing Reality When It Comes To Typing Segments
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Segmentation Marketing: Facing Reality When It Comes To Typing Segments

May 19, 2015

Martin Eichholz, PhD

Segmentations remain one of the most popular types of quantitative research studies, and when done right, they have the potential to transform an organization’s marketing strategy, especially from a product or brand portfolio perspective.

Segmentations remain one of the most popular types of quantitative research studies, and when done right, they have the potential to transform an organization’s marketing strategy, especially from a product or brand portfolio perspective.  As part of our extensive work on developing Kelton’s Segmentation Journey approach, the Kelton team has revisited one of the trickier aspects of segmentation studies – development of the typing tool.

As Orme and Johnson have succinctly defined, a typing tool is “an abbreviated set of questions for classifying new respondents into existing segments.”  This sounds straight forward in theory but represents a number of formidable challenges in reality, many of which have recently become more prominent given the growing demand for the integration of (survey-based) segmentation schemes into client databases, especially in a Big Data environment.  During the course of the many segmentation studies we work on, we are constantly exposed to these challenges and do unfortunately encounter unrealistic expectations regarding what a typing tool can do and what it can’t.  In fact, clients are often surprised to discover that their typing tool needs – presumably a non-sexy formality and handled via some quick “back-end statistics” – have the potential to completely change the overall design of a segmentation study.

To help align expectations and set ourselves up for success, we therefore candidly discuss the following 3 Typing Tool Truisms at the very outset of a project:

Reality Check #1:  Nuance is the enemy of typing tool efficiency.

  • Clients often crave segmentations that shine with detailed attitudinal or psychographic nuances and communicate this desire with the archetypical “make them come to life” request. This is doable, but what tends to be forgotten is that the more nuances there are, the more difficult it gets to create an accurate typing tool.  It’s a tradeoff that is logical, yet often conveniently ignored until low typing tool accuracy numbers are reported.
  • The Takeaway: Tackle the White Elephant right away.  No one will prefer a simple solution over a nicely nuanced solution unless you reinforce the idea that accuracy rates will drop significantly with growing nuance.

Reality Check #2:  The definition of good accuracy varies…

  • There are no hard and fast rules for which typing tool accuracy levels are awesome, mediocre, or unacceptable (try googling it), and one of the reasons for that is that it very much depends on a segmentation’s complexity.  Sure, you can achieve an accuracy of 90% or higher if your segmentation is based solely on a couple of demographics and maybe a core purchase spend number.  But once you add, say, 10 attitudes, a couple of bipolar trade-off statements, some tech ownership variables and a few shopping preferences to the input mix, be prepared for accuracy levels  to drop into the 70s, 60s, or even lower – and that’s “good” given the complexity.
  • The Takeaway: Have a candid conversation about both the desired segmentation complexity and the desired typing tool accuracy – and make sure they match up.

Reality Check #3:  You can’t predict apples with oranges.  Really.

  • This is where typing into databases comes into play. Now, maybe your customer database has 10,000+ variables for each record, including some attitudinal metrics – consider yourself lucky and jump to the final paragraph.  However, the reality is that most databases have a modest amount of variables, most of which are strictly behavioral ($ spend, website visitation frequency, etc.) along with some basic demographics.  So how well do you think these variables are at predicting consumers’ needs, feelings, attitudes, and preferences?  Usually not good at all.
  • The Takeaway: Don’t beat around the bush, but address this challenge head on.  If database typing is even a remote possibility, start the project by learning everything you can about the database and alert the client to what that means for potential typing tool accuracy (of course, also depending on the desired segmentation complexity).

Are you exhausted yet?  Yes, it’s a lot to consider and there are no easy solutions for any of it.  Plus, it means you have to discuss limitations and challenges instead of the beauty of the distinct segments you will create and nicely visualize.  Awesome.  But is has to be done since you’ll be doing both yourself and your client a favor.  Which brings me to my last and most important piece of advice:  start with the end in mind.  You must find out what the client’s expectations are for post-segmentation typing tool applications and then design the segmentation approach accordingly, from the ground up.  Should it be a deep attitudinal segmentation, an occasion-based segmentation, or a demographics-dominated segmentation?  In fact, in extreme cases you might even recommend to not use survey research at all and create the segments directly off database variables.  And all that just because of this little thing called the Typing Tool.

Martin Eichholz, PhD

Chief Insights Officer

Martin is an expert in matching innovative research methodologies with the unique challenges Kelton’s clients are facing. A great storyteller and strategic thinker, Martin makes sure that clients...

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