This leader article “Struggling with segmentation” was published in the Summer 2021 edition of Professional Marketing Magazine https://www.pmforum.co.uk/pm-magazine/pm-magazine.aspx which is sent free to members of the Professional Marketing Forum. https://www.pmforum.co.uk/
The Covid pandemic thrust marketers into the limelight. Without the face-to-face interactions that are fundamental to so much marketing and business development – our firms looked to us to help. It was a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity. A brilliant chance for us to shine and demonstrate the real value we could add. And most marketers excelled.
But it wasn’t always as good as it could have been. There were many issues – and mostly with that most fundamental of marketing principles: segmentation. I’m sorry to say that there’s some sloppy segmentation around.
Geography is history Pre-Covid many smaller professional service firms focused on their local markets. Their proximity to, and immersion, in local markets were the strategic planks on which their brands were based. And then Covid made us all migrate to Zoom and Teams. Geography is no longer so relevant any more right? How many firms reviewed their aims, strategies and brands to see whether they needed an overhaul – or even a bit of tweaking – to take advantage of these now much broader horizons? Geography is history. Bring on new segmentation approaches.
Some sectors were smashed Many professional service firms use sectors as a basis for their segmentation. It’s fundamental to their differentiation and value proposition. Some sectors were obliterated by the pandemic – retail, hospitality and travel to name a few. Some firms managed to pivot and change gears to focus on those that were experiencing super-growth – for example, ecommerce and logistics. Others resorted to a product and service-based approach – blasting out the same information as their competitors to anyone who might be out there.
Slice the pie differently With traditional sector approaches crumbling, how many firms adopted different segmentation approaches? Such as rate of growth – focusing services on fast growing businesses differently to those which were static or shrinking? Or seeking signs of new and emerging micro-segments and diverting resources? During lockdown, many firms invested more in communicating with existing clients – but without considering the different needs of the segments within their client base.
Learn from digital marketers The digital marketers and content marketers have access to a wealth of behavioural data. They should be encouraged to share their insights with the broader marketing and BD team to help develop new segmentation approaches and realign persona profiles. Digital channels and user data means we can apply behavioural segmentation approaches in B2B markets – looking at purchasing behaviour, preferred channel, journey stage, interest areas, satisfaction, loyalty and engagement level.
I realise that good segmentation relies on accurate and up-to-date data. And that’s often a challenge in the professional services sector. And the fast-changing nature of emerging sectors and segment shifts is hard to keep up with. But we can’t wait for our data and systems to catch up. Perfect data is a Nirvana we never reach. In professional services we are expert at working with imperfect data and making bold leaps of imagination to get ahead of the competition. Let’s see smarter segmentation in the future.
Other articles on segmentation include: