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A culturally on code approach to segmentation

spoon with sprinkles

Applying a cultural lens to segmentation.

In a nutshell

  1. A traditional segmentation will show in great detail and across a range of touchpoints the story that needs to be told to connect with a particular segment group. But it will not provide direction on how that story can be delivered in a culturally relevant way. This is an essential requirement to connect the story to individual consumers and play its role as a driver in choice, consumption and decision making.
  2. We have been working with a major trans-Tasman FMCG company to develop a cultural approach to segmentation.
  3. When a cultural lens is applied, the resulting segmentation delivers segments that clearly point the organisation and its brands in the direction of relevant stories for their customers. But more than this, it readies the organisation for action by identifying and articulating the relevant cultural currents that are impacting each of the different segments in the model.

A segmentation model should ready an organisation to execute a strategy that leverages the core tenets of the model to drive growth. To achieve that goal the model must give direction that will enable the organisation’s brands to be culturally relevant take into account the cultural codes that drive decision making.

The prologue

According to Christopher Booker there are 7 basic plots that drive all of our stories. In some shape or form every author, screenwriter or playwright will recreate one of these stories with every piece they create. And within these basic plots there are also specific types of stories. Tragedy, for example, can range from the destructive hero of Breaking Bad to the star-crossed lovers of Romeo and Juliet.

Segmenting consumers is in fact a similar process. There are basic plots or constructs that the segmentation can be based upon. These range from demographic, through attitudinal and occasion-based segmentations to more sophisticated needs and behaviour-based segmentations. Further, within these what is often articulated is a recurring set of segments, such as a control segment for attitudes or a status seeking segment in a needs-based segmentation.

The permutations of what can be found out are actually limited. But if we look back to literature we can see that there are countless ways to re-tell the basic plot. What makes the same story resonate over and over again is the cultural relevance of its retelling. And as culture is a key driver of people’s decision making, being culturally relevant is an essential and powerful tool for brands.

Scene 2

West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet are essentially the same story – a tragedy of star-crossed lovers. They are very different however in their cultural relevance, across the setting, characters and even the genre in which they are presented. It is this cultural relevance that ensures they connect with their intended audience.

And this is where many segmentation approaches fall down. What they do is show there is a segment of consumers who have a healthy attitude or that there is a segment of consumers who, within a particular category, have a strong emotive need to stand out and demonstrate their status. To their credit, more than just defining these segments, the segmentation model will show the size of these groups, their demographic profile, the brands they like (and dislike), their behavioural and emotional drivers and may even point to the media that they are most likely to consume. In short, the segmentation will show in great detail and across a range of touchpoints the story that needs to be told to connect with the particular segment group.

What the segmentation will not provide direction on is how that story can be delivered in a culturally relevant way. An essential requirement to connect the story to individual consumers and play its role as driver in choice, consumption and decision making.

Putting it into practice

We have been working with a major trans-Tasman FMCG company to develop a cultural approach to segmentation. The cultural view is layered in through our joint understanding of cultural currents and supplemented with ethnographic observation to both set up quantitative segmentation and to culturally characterise the developed segments.

When the cultural lens is layered in this way, the resulting segmentation delivers segments that clearly point the organisation and its brands in the direction of relevant plots. But more than this, they ready the organisation for action by identifying and articulating the relevant cultural currents that are impacting each of the different segments in the model.

As an example, in this segmentation, as in many others, there is an emotive and social need to stand out from the group and be recognised. In most segmentation models, this is where the direction would end – essentially reiterating and describing, in the specific category context, a timeless and enduring basic human driver.

By augmenting understanding of this core emotive driver with relevant emerging cultural currents, we have been able to paint a culturally relevant picture of the segment and the influences and drivers that will impact on the customer’s relationship with the brand. The direction that comes from this segmentation ensures that in telling this story, we will speak to and reflect behaviours and attitudes that are on code for that storyline.

This approach has already been successful in developing a major piece of communication that was underway as the segmentation was being completed. The ad which had been developed was ‘off code’ for the intended segment. It became clear through the cultural layer in the segmentation that the communication would struggle to resonate strongly. Changes were made to the execution before it was aired to deliver a more culturally relevant take on the story which could therefore leverage culture as a driver.

Effective research provides the clarity and nuance of direction that readies an organisation for action. The direction that a star-crossed lover tragedy is required is not enough because it could deliver results as diverse as Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

One thing that is very clear is that Romeo and Juliet is a compelling story but its relevance on Broadway in the 1950’s would pale in comparison to that of West Side Story.

Greg Sampson
Business Director at TRA

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