Using segmentation methods to understand your audience

This guide explores segmentation methods from both the Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments. The resource outlines the value of these approaches and offers advice on how to apply these to the heritage sector. This is particularly important when planning to maximise technology to develop new audience segments.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
A collection of stone artefacts in a museum
Image courtesy of Durham Cathedral ©

Using segmentation methods to understand your audience

1. Introduction

It is important for any organisation to reflect and respond to the needs of its audiences. A common pitfall for many arts and heritage organisations is the assumption that just because we value what we do, then others will too. This is especially the case when thinking about finding new, perhaps younger, audiences through greater digital engagement or using technology to reach out to existing audiences in new ways. Rather than building a digital strategy or vision for the future on a traditional understanding of our audiences, developing deep audience insight through the process of segmentation is a valuable approach.

In this resource, our expert, Dr Stephen Dobson, University of Leeds, will guide you through the different types of segmentation and the technique of creating personas to develop your understanding of your audiences.

2. Segmentation

Segmentation is the process of grouping audiences into types based on similarities in the way they engage, their habits and interests, or their specific needs. Segmentation can help you think more carefully about the nature of communications or the range of activities you are planning. Typically, there are four forms of segmentation. These are:

  • Demographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioural
  • Geographic

Demographic segmentation is a common approach which involves exploring the similarities and differences between your audiences based on attributes such as age, gender, marital status, family size, occupation, education level, income, race, nationality and religion.

Psychographic segmentation is similar to demographic segmentation but may also consider emotional involvement and motivation for engaging with your organisation. For example, Bob McKercher and Hilary du Cros in ‘Cultural tourism: The partnership between tourism and cultural heritage management’ (2002) suggest that the motivation and potential emotional investment of cultural heritage site visitors can be very broad. This depends on the kind of experience they are seeking and how important cultural tourism was in their decision to visit a place. In other words, did they travel specifically to visit your heritage site, or were they in the area anyway? As well as grouping visitors by demographic characteristics, you might also group your audiences by their level of emotional investment.

The diagram below is of psychographic segmentation. The left-hand side depicts the level of experience sought rising vertically from shallow to deep. The importance of cultural tourism in the decision to visit a destination is depicted along the bottom from low on the left-hand side to high on the right-hand side. A serendipitous cultural tourist seeks a deep experience but cultural tourism is less important to them than a purposeful cultural tourist. Incidental, casual and sightseeing cultural tourists respectively place a higher importance on cultural tourism in visiting a destination, but the level of experience they seek is on the lower side.

Diagram of psychographic segmentation
Diagram of psychographic segmentation

Behavioural segmentation refers specifically to the way that your audiences engage with you and their buying habits. Is this mainly online or on-site, and what do you imagine are the things that you offer which they are most interested in?

Finally geographic segmentation is about grouping audiences based on their location – are they local, regional, national, or international?

Thinking about your audiences in this way can help improve how you communicate and advertise what you do, especially for social media campaigns. It may also inform how you design and deliver new events, products, services or indeed strategies for improving the accessibility and reach of these. Being audience-led will help focus your attention on the most important aspects of what you do as an organisation and so can help clarify a vision for change. Or it may enable you to see a large area of untapped possibility, especially if your organisation is yet to maximise the value of digital technologies for developing new audiences and improving engagement.

3. Developing personas

The best place to start when thinking about segmentation is to create a ‘persona’. This is a sketch of a general profile of the kind of people you want to reach. Developing a persona allows you to humanise the audiences you are trying to reach and helps you develop a more detailed understanding of who they are. Below are some key questions to ask when developing your digital personas:

1. What are the main reasons why you want to attract this persona?
2. Why would they be interested in your heritage organisation?
3. What are their interests and personality type?
4. What is their status of employment and social environment?
5. What are their goals and aspirations?

The image below shows an example of the questions you might ask yourself when developing a ‘buyer persona’.

Diagram of questions to determine buyer persona
Diagram of questions to determine buyer persona

4. Tools for getting started

Now you can see how using segmentation and personas can help you understand and reach new audiences, you might be wondering where to start in your own organisation.

Here are some valuable tools specifically aimed at cultural organisations to help you think about your audience segments:

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Cultural Segments

The Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum

AMAculturehive – Segmentation: introducing Culture Segments

Arts Council England – Culture-based segmentation

AMAculturehive – How to segment cultural tourists

More help here

A woman in a blue coat and pink jumper smiles and examines a sculpture at the National Museum of Art, Cardiff

The leader’s guide to social media

Social media enables heritage institutions and practitioners to participate, preserve and interpret heritage content and practice. It can also support your heritage organisation to market itself and raise awareness of its practice to local, national and international audiences. This guide will provide a brief overview of social media platforms, tips for using them effectively to encourage participation and how they can be used to improve marketing and fundraising in your organisation.

Elderly people walking in a garden

How to use segmentation to understand audiences

In this resource Edward Appleyard looks at the different approaches to segmenting your online audiences including personas and empathy mapping, and how your organisation can use that insight to develop new audiences and improve your digital engagement.

Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Using segmentation methods to understand your audience (2022) by Dr Stephen Dobson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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