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Develop a Customer Segmentation Question [Market Research Game Changer]

Why is it that I think about market segmentation when I see pie? Hmmm.

Last week I was reading through some old research that a client had done years ago.

And then I stumbled on it.

My heart skipped a beat, the moment that I found that my client had developed an audience segmentation question! Eureka!

Before you think that I’m exaggerating, let me express just how many big-dollar custom research studies I’ve read through with no way to link the data to my client’s brand today.

The presence of a single question can make your data relevant forever as a benchmark. Without a customer or audience segmentation question, you are left trying to compare mode of questions and recruitment statistics to fill in gaps and make a guess.

What is a customer segmentation question?

A customer segmentation question is your link from your research to your brand promise. It is a question developed in a succinct way to segregate your research participants in to groups that are meaningful to your business. Although I always recommend just one, very well thought out question, it could be a series of questions that help you do the grouping.

Why is a customer segmentation question important?

I’ve worked and consulted in a lot of different categories, but one thing is constant—the way that a brand wants to categorize a customer/consumer often doesn’t align with the way a customer/consumer would identify themselves.

As an example, a brand might identify their target customer with the following attributes: a millennial mom, who works outside the home, seeks convenience products and has purchased an organic product in the last month.

If you asked, woman fitting the above attributes might tell you that she purchased that organic product because it was the only thing available at the time—but she doesn’t choose to do it regularly.

Another woman fitting the original attributes might tell you that she seeks out organic products and buys them regularly because she feels like she is taking better care of her family.

As you can see—they both purchased an organic product in the last month, but for VERY different reasons.

Woman A and Woman B will likely have very different opinions on some things, although they both fit the brand attributes. So, which should you listen to?

That my friend is the beauty of your customer segmentation question. Who you listen to will be defined by your brand goals? You might choose to listen to one group for one campaign or product line, and the other customer segment for another campaign or product line.

What does a customer segmentation question look like?

Which of the following best describes you?

A. I buy an organic product, but only because it is the only option

B. I buy fresh organic products, but don’t usually buy packaged organic products

C. I seek out fresh and packaged organic foods, but will by conventional when organic is not available

D. I only purchase organic products and will not purchase if not organic

E. Other, please describe

Above is an example of a customer segmentation question. It helps to categorize a customer’s behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, experience level, or even personality traits. In addition to your standard demographic questions, your customer segmentation question brings clarity to your study.

How do you develop a customer segmentation question?

Although it will be slightly different for each and every brand, there are two places that I like to start.

First, we start with your brand’s ideal customer. Most of the time, brands decide on this by purchase, use, or occasion. This should be something that encompasses all of your product lines and is tied to your entire brand, not just a single product line.

Since we can all relate to shopping in a hardware store, let’s use the home improvement store Lowe’s as an example. Rather than selecting specific product line customers like gardeners, decorators, painters, etc. they would likely say that the Do-It-Yourselfer is their ideal customer.

Next, we figure out who is your reluctant customer. Every brand and category has a reluctant customer. Sometimes this group of reluctant customers is small, but sometimes this group of reluctant customers is VERY large. Reluctant customers are those customers that buy your product, but would never classify themselves as your customer.

Let’s use our hardware store example. A parent faced with a crying child holding a favorite toy that’s broken would likely never consider themselves a Do-It-Yourselfer. However, on that day l would try to purchase a product to fix their child’s toy—magically turning themselves into a Do-It Yourselfer.

Why is this important? Most of the time, when we can correctly identify a reluctant customer base, we know exactly how to segment the rest of our customers.

From experience in the category, the Do-It-Yourselfer is generally self-segmented by project type. Consumers who are willing to paint might not be willing to install a light or fan. Those willing to install a light and do some woodworking, might not be willing to do heavy plumbing or electrical.

Start with your reluctant customer—they are the secret to defining all of your segments. Think about what situation would turn someone into becoming your customer. The church-goer that goes on Christmas to make their family happy, the late-night worker that only has one restaurant option, and the gas station visitor nearing empty. Like all of us, your customers might or might not think of themselves as your customers.

Lastly, frame a reluctant customer statement by using the following format:

You will _____________, but (only because it is the only option/ wouldn’t consider yourself a ______ / only because it was an emergency).

After figuring out who your reluctant customer is, build off of that segment. Work on developing 3-5 more advanced “__________, but not ___________” statements. Use the example above as guidance.

I would suggest leaving an “other” option as well to capture some outliers. You might need evolve your question and add another defined segment, if you can find a pattern from the outliers.

Using Your Customer Segmentation Question

From my experience, once you have your customer segmentation question it will get used EVERYWHERE—which is great! In addition to your research efforts, it will likely find its way into your greater marketing tactics, and will even reshape your brand promise bringing clarity on the needs of your customers.

Use this question across all of your efforts as a touchstone to align all of your customer insights. This alone should give you confidence that you are listening to the correct voices.


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