Segmentation as a key to personalized content delivery, part 1

Who is your audience and how can you split them into segments?

Who is your audience and how can you split them into segments?

When it comes to delivering personalized, localized and – most importantly – relevant content to audiences, segmentation is a key concept. Segmentation, in this context, does not refer to the division of text into translatable chunks.  Instead, it refers to the classification of content consumers according specific parameters.

There is a compelling business need for incorporating segmentation into an information architecture: helping customers make purchase decisions about the products and services described in your content. The underlying problem is the evolutionary expansion of technology; namely, as storage capacity expands and content management capabilities grow more sophisticated, the volume of data under active management also expands. Yet, brands, companies and other content providers must continue to deliver only the most relevant content to their customers while screening out irrelevant data that can otherwise disable crucial decision-making when it comes to making purchases.

The solution to this problem has two parts. The first action, discussed in the following paragraphs, is to develop effective, defensible rules for segregating the people who read your content. The second part, which will be discussed separately, is to incorporate those rules into the way you classify your content.

"The first step is to building segmentation is to develop audience personas."

So how do you develop appropriate segmentation rules? The first step is to build audience personas, defining the qualities and interests that will route your audience to different pieces of content. Building these simply from end-user IP addresses, however, is tilting at windmills. A better segmentation strategy focuses on a few primary areas where audiences offer distinguishing characteristics and then sorting these characteristics into their respective content channels. Here are candidate primary identifiers for segmenting your audience.

While it's asking the impossible to build audience personas solely from IP addresses, it is nonetheless true that IP addresses offer some meaningful guidance to the task. For example, you can know whether or not to deliver translated or localized versions of your content.  You can pinpoint cultural signifiers and traditions that may shape how your audience interacts with content. Then there's the fact that IP addresses help you identify key geographic zones of influence, be they broad measures such as a continent or a country, or more precise identifiers such as a region, a county or ZIP code. While our increasingly interconnected world has broken down the barriers that once defined a geography, different areas can still drive audience behaviors and thought in a way that requires segmenting.

From the "where?" of geographic identifiers, demography identifies the "who?" that makes up your audience. Demographics can take on a nearly infinite array of attributes, from gender to age to national origin to economic status and income. Probably the most immediately relevant is occupation, since the services being offered can be specific to a certain audience within a single company (for example: HR supervisors versus regional managers).

Demography identifies the "who?" of your audience.

Behavioral attributes are simply the answer to the question, "What actions does this audience segment regularly perform?" This method examines patterns of behavior: where people shop, what they buy, what kind of web pages they look at and for how long.

Psychographic segmentation is one of the more nuanced approaches to audience segmenting since it takes data from geographic, demographic attributes, and behavior sources to synthesize a psychological profile. This profile, though, is less about identifying patterns in what people do and more about identifying what and how they think. Hence, a profile subjected to psychographic segmentation focuses on the following attributes:

  • Lifestyle and personality. Beyond their behavior, audiences identify themselves in accordance with the aspects that have the most meaning in their lives. This can be a self-identified interest derived from behavior but distinct from it. A person may identify with and fit the profile of a "Harley-Davidson bike owner" even without purchasing a motorcycle. A sustained interest in the culture and ephemera related to Harley-Davidson ownership is enough to accurately capture this audience segment and deliver customized content. 
  • Values, attitudes and opinions. Values, attitudes and opinions provide the framework of thought and perspective, which drives an emotional response to stimuli.
  • Social class. Class consciousness plays a big role in psychographic identification. Class differs from lifestyle in that "class" describes an inherited set of rules (acquired through family or peer-group interactions) governing where people exist and how they relate to others in various classes, whereas "lifestyle" describes a set of chosen interests. A prime example is the upper-class young lady looking for information on handbags who is driven by the luxury standards of her social circle, as compared to a middle-class young lady looking for information on inexpensive, rugged alternatives. 

Next time, we will explore the ways to most effectively and accurately identify audience segments and funnel them into your content.

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