Segmentation Strategies: Finding Your Tribe for Brand Success

Suzie Carbonell
Segmentation Strategies Finding Your Tribe for Brand Success

Suzanne Carbonell, Partner at Hall & Partners, talks about tapping into often missed audience segments 

Increasingly marketers are moving away from mass marketing strategies to more targeted, and personalised, communications where they can identify and engage with the most frequent buyers of the brand or a distinctive segment of people that may be more likely to buy. 

The digital revolution has created new opportunities to reach small groups of consumers in different ways and at different times. As a result, brands can be more relevant to the lifestyle and behaviour of target consumers but how do they identify and segment communities or subcultures? 

Segmentation is the perfect tool to identify segments and subcultures within audiences, since it uses data driven insights to complement intuition.  The creation and finalization of segments is truly a combination of art and science.

Not everyone is a fan of micro targeting

Before we dive into how segmentations can be useful, it’s worth pointing out why micro targeting is a useful strategy in the first place.

Social media companies have thrived by enabling advertisers to target users based on their behaviour on everything from users’ moods, secret obsessions and shopping habits, as revealed by everything they do on their devices and every place they take them. On the one hand this is a sensible targeted marketing strategy. On the other, it has angered privacy campaigners, boosted inflammatory content and enabled election manipulation. 

Professor Byron Sharp, author of the influential book How Brands Grow and director of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, suggests micro targeting strategies miss ‘light buyers’ who are important for vital brand growth. Mass marketing, he asserts, has built the majority of today’s leading bands and is an essential part of acquisition strategy.

A sense of belonging

Critics aside, there is an argument for quality of customer over quantity. Brands with more loyal customers can stay alive for longer. People naturally want to find other people who share similar passions, a sense of belonging and shared purpose. In his book ‘Tribes: we need you to lead us’, Seth Godin explains that there are two requirements for any tribe: a method of communication, and a shared interest.  

Marketers can connect to any number of tribes based on their areas of interest. Ignoring these niche segments means that brands could be missing an opportunity for growth, particularly if the group aligns with their target segments.  

In his book Niche, James Harkin talks about staking out an identifiable niche in a world where no size fits all and in which anyone who tries to be all things to all people ends up doing nothing for anyone. 

Lululemon is a great example of how a brand can create a subculture and become a cult brand.  The Canadian yoga wear and apparel retailer has created a strong women's brand by engaging with communities of consumers about yoga. Using yoga experts as brand ambassadors, they appealed to the yoga community on a personal level that has enabled them to even pull followers from rival apparel brands such as Nike and Adidas. 

The 5 a.m club and other tribes

The number of tribes to identify is boundless. 

It might include for example, the 5 a.m. club, people who get up at 5 a.m. and use that distraction-free time to fuel their mind, body and soul for the day. 

This ‘up early, achieve a lot’ brigade, which includes Michelle Obama, Oprah and Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi, say they feel more energized, focused and productive throughout the day after taking some time for themselves before the working day commences.  

Tik Tok is full of 5 a.m to 9 a.m. routines that include mediating, going to the gym, journaling, juicing, taking in a podcast or pilates and walking. Other 5 a.m clubbers include CEOs and entrepreneurs who start work early. 

The pandemic disrupted labor markets globally and fueled the rise of digital nomads; people working from remote locations while learning to surf or ski or just enjoy a different environment. Savvy countries that want to create a talent pool of people who will stay in the country for the long term are targeting these digital nomads. Canada for example has a Tech Talent strategy where it aims to support candidates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This group could be a viable target group for technology companies and productivity solutions alike. 

Another target group that has been targeted by luxury brands, heritage sporting labels and emerging start-ups are pickleball players, a sport that started in the USA and is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world. These brands have tapped into an emerging tribe, creating dedicated pickleball attire or curated edits that appeal to the less rule-driven sports person than its tennis playing cousins. Just four months after launching a range of stylish versatile outfits that work both on and off the court, the London and LA based family-run brand Varley says the range is already their biggest revenue driver. 

Finding your own niche and mapping it

Identifying the right tribes by their motivations and behaviors is entirely possible, particularly because they most likely relate to the real world.  However it can be more challenging to map this against a media plan. 

Segmentation is a wonderful tool for identifying tribes, but if the process does not follow through to highlight how to reach high priority groups, the actionability is short lived.  If you can't find the tribe, does it actually exist? Should you be treating core segments as a north star for your brand and marketing strategy if you cannot reach them in the real world? 

Blending analytic rigor and technique with innovative sampling strategies enables the creation of segments that are 'target ready'. In turn this means that marketers can activate their tribes more quickly with tailored content and through the channels where they can be reached.