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Reinventing audience segmentation for a post-pandemic world

By Sharon Hodgson | Divisional director

Trinity McQueen


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April 15, 2022 | 5 min read

We can all recognize that we’ve been changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But have segmentation and the other tools in market researchers’ toolkits kept up with these changes? Sharon Hodgson, divisional director at market research consultancy Trinity McQueen, argues that while some are still using outdated technologies, we’re seeing a growing opportunity for fast, effective segmentation that understands the reality for consumers in 2022.

Trinity McQueen on how technology can be better used to improve audience segmentation.

Trinity McQueen on how technology can be better used to improve audience segmentation

“I didn’t know I was an introvert until I realized how much I’d enjoyed lockdown.” The words of a friend, who until recent events had a packed social calendar and a wardrobe to match. As we raised a gin and tonic over Zoom, she confessed that while the prospect of post-Covid freedom was welcome, she wasn’t sure she wanted to resume old habits. Here was the opportunity for her to reflect and reset.

The story is a common one as the seismic effects of a global pandemic have shaken our social foundations. We’ve had to shift from autopilot to manual as we deal with new constraints and learn new ways to get things done. And it’s changed us.

Our aging parents have bitten the bullet and become online shoppers. We’ve become empowered by self-service technology like never before, zapping QR codes instead of straining to catch a waiter’s eye. We’ve found new forms of entertainment and new ways to holiday as our wings have been clipped. Along the way we’ve made new discoveries about what we like, and what we really value.

How well do we know audiences?

The implication is that companies that trade on understanding their audiences will find they don’t know them as well as they thought. As the ground beneath us has shifted in the wake of Covid-19, so have sensibilities, priorities, needs and behaviors.

If you’re a business basing decisions on customer segments created pre-2020, you could well be barking up the wrong tree in 2022. Just like my friend, it’s time to click refresh.

The good news is that segmenting audiences no longer requires the expensive, unwieldy research marathons of old, taking months to complete and years to embed. With a clear sense of purpose and focus on application, a new breed of lean segmentation can be produced at speed – and with a sensible price tag. This is ‘fast fashion’ research, not the investment piece that sits in the wardrobe: accessible, dynamic and always current.

Time to be BOLDER

At Trinity McQueen we call these BOLDER segmentations. They’re ideally suited to a dynamic post-Covid-19 consumer world where old assumptions need to be challenged and goalposts keep moving.

B: Built on behavioral understanding: these new-generation segmentations embrace the principles of behavioral science to expose fundamental truths, not self-conscious posturing.

O: Objectives-led: ruthlessly focus on how segmentations are going to be used, and only include the stuff that counts.

L: Lean: don’t overengineer; keep things agile and accessible. Cut out the fat.

D: Differentiating: don’t waste anyone’s time or money on muddy segments with little clear water between them. Use highly-discriminating questioning techniques, such as gamified trade-offs, to avoid sitting on the fence.

E: Energizing: make segments a springboard for action. That means ‘inspiring,’ of course, but also ‘designed for practical application and everyday business relevance.’

R: Replicable: segmentations should be easy to apply, extend and repeat. They can and should bridge to other business tools and databases, so segments become live currency day-to-day.

This is a time to pension off segmentation surveys with huge attitudinal barrages, turgid profiling and exhaustive detail. Beating research participants senseless with ‘just in case’ content isn’t smart when we need to be quick on our feet. And it’s not a great investment when research budgets will only stretch so far, and insights become dated so quickly.

Instead we need laser-sharp focus, training attention on the things that matter to meet clearly-defined business goals. It’s about delivering the ‘need to know’ now, rather than the ‘nice to know’ a few months down the line.

From a researcher’s point of view this means getting just a bit feisty with our clients at times; not accepting ‘we need a segmentation’ but insisting on pinning down why. Clear business objectives are the essential starting point for a successful segmentation that actually makes a difference. Without them, it’s too easy to flounder and fail.

The research graveyard is littered with the bones of Bargain Bill and Savvy Sally. ‘How are we going to use this?’ needs to be the first question stakeholders ask themselves, not the last.

And by upping our game, we’ll turn a new page on segmentations as we figure out the new normal. Fresher, fitter, fiercer. An agile and actionable tool for keeping pace with a changing world – with reinvention baked in.

Marketing Audience Segmentation Marketing Services

Content by The Drum Network member:

Trinity McQueen

Our belief is that people are poor witnesses of their own behaviour. This informs everything we do, making our findings more insightful and powerful. The way we retrieve and interpret our data, we are never misled. We uncover a truer story and help make the right decision an easy one. Winners and finalists of the prestigious MRS and AURA national awards for the last 10 years.

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