Trying to pin down who your audience is hard enough in person, never mind if they’re audiences online who you might not have engaged with yet. All too often it’s the case that we make presumptions about who these people are – it’s only natural – and speak to just one group of people with one blanket message.
If you said exactly the same thing to all of your friends and family, let’s say about an exhibition you saw recently, they probably wouldn’t all be interested in that particular topic of conversation right? By saying the same thing to everyone you’re narrowing down your opportunity to engage people as you’re telling them something that many will, sadly, not be interested in, no matter how much you believe in it.
Surely it’s better to think about people in different groups of what they might be interested in and why? Surely it’s better to focus on just three or four groups of people and get them super interested and better engaged in your conversation rather than trying to talk to the masses? Surely if you can build up an image in your head of who you’re really talking to online, that makes it easier to know what to say, where to say it and how to say it?
Segmentation can help you define this, give your audiences identity, and reap great benefits in your interaction and engagement with your followers online. It’ll lead to longer-lasting relationships and more impactful encounters, and will ultimately be a great asset in the sustainability of your organisation.
Segmentation is just a way of dividing up people into easier-to-manage groups called segments. We divide our audiences up into groups so that we can communicate the right messages to the right people, to gain the best engagement. Segmentation can also help you define and develop a new product or activity.
There are a few approaches you can take and the first question you need to ask yourself is ‘What factors are most relevant to me?’, depending on what your product or offer is.
- For socio-demographic factors, you look at someone’s age, employment status and potential income, gender, family size and possibly ethnicity.
- Geographic factors literally look at the kinds of places people live – whether they are urban or rural, what language they speak, what the climate is like, and what the local population is like.
- When it comes to people’s lifestyles, beliefs, and values, we call that psychographics.
- And finally behavioural factors look at how often someone visits, what they do when they’re there, what they buy.
Whichever segmentation system you choose, or if you choose to make your own, they will probably include some of the elements from all of these four categories listed above.
Some systems have a greater weighting to one kind of category than others. In its most basic form, for example, if you’re a high-end brand selling highly-priced goods, you’d chose a system more heavily based on socio-demographic and geographic factors – you would want rich customers, living in affluent areas. You’d still think about their lifestyles and behaviours, but they would not necessarily be your priority. An example of a model like this is Experian’s Mosaic.
Whereas if you’re a charity that looks after a heritage organisation, you’re more likely to opt to engage with people’s values and why they should support you, thinking about what your audiences like or chose to do, and how you can pull at their heart strings. This would be based on psychographics and behavioural factors primarily, and an example of a model like this is Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments.
There are also segmentation systems that bridge some of these factors. The Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum looks at populations and their attitudes towards culture, and because it’s based on postcodes and household data it can help you pinpoint audience interests geographically.
There are of course pros and cons to any of these models. The great thing is that you can sign up to some kind of basic level of access to all of them for free to get a bit of insight into how they work and what they might mean to you and your organisation.
Each of them will show you a ‘pen portrait’ of each one of their segments – it gives you a great one-page overview into the personas that are built up around them.
So you’ve chosen some factors that are relevant to your organisation and you’ve set some business goals.
So here’s a big klaxon of caution – this is the point where you probably need to do some research. If you’ve only just started thinking about segmentation, the chances are that you may not know your online audience as well as you might think. In articles adjacent to this one (How to get visitor feedback online to improve what you do, and What is visitor data and how do I collect it when I don’t have a ticketing or ‘Customer Relationship Management’ (CRM) system?) you’ll find an easy how-to on doing some digital audience research using some of these factors to help you build a clearer picture of who you are trying to target.
Once you’ve done that …
Segmentation systems can be a bit overwhelming. They’re designed to cover whole populations, and as already mentioned in this article, we want to focus on groups of people that we can engage with, rather than going for a broad-brush ‘saying something to everyone = saying nothing special for anyone’ approach.
So you need to choose just three or four segments that match the audiences you think will give you the best opportunities for engagement or growth.
Are you thinking of making your own? There’s nothing to stop you making up some of your own segments of course, but bear in mind that existing systems are built on the most robust data sets in the marketplace and are industry recognised. However, if this is all too much for you or your organisation, there is nothing wrong with starting somewhere simple, like ‘Families’, ‘Older Couples’ and ‘Art Buffs’. They’ll likely lack some definition and rigour, but better to start somewhere than nowhere.
When it comes to online audiences, you don’t get to see people in real life like you do when people visit your organisation or site. Part of understanding your audiences is being able to visualise them. As people working or volunteering in heritage and arts organisations, having a face-to-face connection with our audiences is vital – we can build an intuition of what people are like even if we can’t afford to do an extensive research project to strategically define them. For example, you’d know if most people visit in family groups to have a multi-generational great day out, or if actually most of your visitors come as individuals or with a friend looking for an impactful artistic experience.
Your online audiences are no different to your in-person ones. I often ask my teams to imagine somewhere physical that they might go.
“If the website was a building, what would be on show and who would visit?”
“If Facebook was a room in that building with social seating so people could interact with each other, who would hang around and what might they like to know?”
“How did they get here and what piqued their interest in the first place?”
Ask yourself some of these questions and I promise it’ll help you create a clearer, visual image of what you want to achieve.
So let’s create a persona. Just to check, at this point you have:
- researched your online audience
- built some business plan objectives or have strategic goals in mind that you want to achieve
- have decided on some audience segments based on factors you’ve decided suit your organisation best
To do this I’d like to introduce you to my imaginary heritage site called Appleyard Towers near the city of Sheffield. It’s a small castle with heritage apple orchards, 100-acres of rugged but beautiful parkland, a small playground and has an in-house, artisan ice cream factory. People can go in the castle to see its Tudor interiors, its great hall, and there is currently a display on young, local metalsmiths who are re-defining the craft in the city, alongside a small collection of Tudor swords. It’s still a family-owned business, the Castle being passed down the generations, with a small team and a group of 15 great volunteers but we need to make income to look after the heritage site – it’s just £12 to get in, £6 for a child. Our best income comes from weddings.
I’ve used Culture Segments thinking to segment my audience. We have very little resource so we had to do some research ourselves for free on site, to people we have contact data for, and online (see article 43 and 45), and we imagined which segments worked best for us knowing what we know. Sometimes you just have to try something, though of course it would be preferable to do a specific, commissioned research project.
My segments are Affirmation, Enrichment and Essence. My Affirmation audience like heritage activity, like to feel like they’re going to learn something (in a light-touch way) and do it together as a family. My Enrichment audience like nostalgia and the past, they like traditional interpretation of places as knowing about the history gives the world context. And my Essence audience like our small but quite unusual exhibition displays – they know what they like and (currently) if they like silver or gold craftsmanship as an art form then they’ll like some of what we have to offer as it interests them. They all like ice cream. Who doesn’t like ice cream?
I’m going to create a persona based on my Affirmation segment for my online channels. I know from the segment pen portrait, and from my own online research that this person/s:
- likes to do something culturally worthwhile with the family, but that’s very affordable
- probably reads the news online, leaning towards the Times but money is a pressure (so they don’t subscribe) so sometimes look at the Daily Mail app as it’s free; the BBC is a trusted friend
- checks everything before they commit to doing what they want to do, so: Does TripAdvisor give it a good rating? What time does it open? What’s the parking like, and do I have to walk far? Do I need to pre-book?
- likes to be ‘part of something’, as in follow what your organisation does (once they’ve been or have contemplated going)
- for my attraction, is likely female – there’s a bias towards women in the family deciding what to do for the weekend (over 75% of the respondents to my research identified as being female, and of them, 85% said they were the catalyst to choosing activity).
That’s quite a lot so far. At this point I’m going to give this person a name; she’s called Ellie. And I’m going to do a mini-workshop with a couple of people in the team to …
We are building up a great picture of Ellie but we need to give her some depth. To do that we need to think about what she says, thinks, does and feels. We are also going to work out some of her pains and gains.
Simple empathy map
A slightly more complex one could explore Ellie in a little more depth, and help define some goals. Xplane developed a great format you can download here Empathy map worksheet, which adds what she hears and sees, and explores a goal by asking: ‘Who are we empathising with?’, and ‘What do they need to do?’.
In the following diagram I’m sticking to the simpler version. This simple map gives us a decent idea of Ellie’s needs and thoughts, to input back into our persona.
Ellie’s empathy map
We’ve now got all the tools we need to build a persona. There’s no set template to this – add in what you think will help you build the best picture for your needs.
Top line essentials:
- an overview – it’s always a good idea to introduce your persona with a bit of prose
- their digital needs – remember you’re building this to help inform your digital output!
- other channels / brands they may like
Essentials you can present differently:
- personality + motivations – personality you can draw on the ‘thinks’ and ‘feels’ quadrants from the empathy map; motivations you can draw on from ’says’ and ‘does’; or you could just include the empathy map – whatever works best for you
- why to visit or take part + why not to – you can draw on your ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ here, plus other aspects of your empathy map
Plus take your pick of:
- demographic – you may have a very clear demographic in mind, for example you could give Ellie an age, say how many children she has, add on where she might live
- other interests – it may help you to say what other interests Ellie might have to build a visual picture of her, such as reading, going to the theatre, attending Latin and Ballroom dance classes – who knows!
- a quote – a quote of something Ellie might say can sometimes really help to have this person in mind when you or another team member need to write something aimed towards her
Ellie’s persona portrait
We are finally at the point in the process where you can put this strategic work into practice. Make a small plan of what channels you are currently using and what needs to be done, and where.
Looking at your personas’ digital needs and behaviours, ask yourself ‘does my website address all these issues?’. If not, make a to-do list of pages to update or make, and set a reminder to review them in six months time to check if they’re doing the job.
For your social media output, ask yourself ‘which persona matches which channel best?’. For example you may want to predominantly post on Facebook as if you were talking to Ellie, though that doesn’t mean to say you can’t talk to other personas for other reasons – such as announcing a particularly specific exhibition or display which may be aimed at someone else. You may wish to keep your Instagram output to be around certain topics or interest areas to match that persona. It might be the case that you only post things on Twitter that are relevant to professionals or people following you in the industry.
If you’re paying for social media advertising or Google ads, who are they aimed at? The joy of this is that you can define your audiences in advertising. Have these personas in mind when you set up these parameters.
Do you reply to, or keep up-to-date, external sources? If you’ve not replied to any TripAdvisor comments in months, that wouldn’t bode well for Ellie – you should at least make a short acknowledgment if you’re short on time or resource. Schedule in 30 minutes a fortnight to keep on top of it, I promise it doesn’t take long. Same goes for Google reviews.
Would someone like Ellie use a listings site like your local area tourism office, or one such as Time Out? If the answer is yes, look into how you can get your listings information uploaded, and kept up-to-date.
Can you go so far as to segment your audience database using your personas so you can speak slightly differently to each of them on email? Ellie might like to know about family activities coming up; someone else may prefer to know what exhibitions are happening.
Then whatever you’re writing, remember to adopt a tone of voice that is applicable to your persona. Does it need to be friendly and sound expressive with adjectives and detail? Or does it just need to state the facts? Think of the thoughts you put on your empathy map.
Whichever path you choose when it comes to segmentation, personas and empathy mapping, and however deep you go with it or whether you keep it top line, you will be doing better than if you’d not done it at all. Having a person in mind whenever you do any marketing, communications or programme planning is always better than not having them in mind, and planning from a very internally facing point of view.
Look outwards, imagine those people, say interesting things to interested groups.
And do you know what, if you get it wrong, it’s not a big deal. Just nuance, re-visit, try again. At the end of the day you’d have to say something fairly drastic or too specific to actually put someone off.
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Audience development Digital engagement Empathy mapping Personas Segmentation User personas
Please attribute as: "How to use segmentation to understand audiences (2022) by Edward Appleyard supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0