From a communication standpoint, the perfect audience consists of a single person. With an audience of one, a message can be precisely tailored to reflect the interests, passions and personality of the listener. What is gained in precision, though, is lost in efficiency, as targeting messages to single individuals is rarely realistic.
So where does the ideal balance lie on the communication continuum between precision and efficiency? The key to effective audience segmentation is careful grouping. Once the target audience has been identified and the appropriate channels for reaching said audience have been selected, strategic tailoring to different segments can commence.
When composing an e-blast or a newsletter, most organizations begin with a general template and use mail merges to address recipients by name or add other personalized elements. This technique, though, is only a superficial attempt at tailoring because the message itself has not been altered in any way. To move beyond mere awareness raising and start influencing the audience’s behavior, messages must be relevant to the individuals receiving them.
To change a passive recipient into an active one, use grouping mechanisms such as age, gender, background, family status, occupation, etc. to appeal directly to the concerns and interests of different audience segments. A newsletter using this method might contain some general information that needs to be conveyed to everyone, but sections of the letter could be reserved for stories or announcements that only affect particular audience segments.
A financial planner, for example, might send information pertaining to retirees only to clients segmented into the 50 and over age group. Families with young or school age children, on the other hand, might receive updates about college savings plans.
For each business or organization, audience segments will be defined differently, and methods of grouping will shift over time to reflect dynamic objectives. While more time consuming than traditional forms of mass communication, there is no question that this method yields better results.
So how many segments should an audience be divided into to achieve the best return on investment? Well, it obviously depends on the client’s goal, audience and messages, but the simple answer is as few as possible but as many as necessary.
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