Sabrina Francis of Arena: why it’s time to put media segmentation back in its box

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Millennials, ABC1s, Mums; the media industry has become obsessed with fitting people into boxes.

Sadly, this means that we often end up perpetuating myths about groups of people because of the public personas that we’ve created for them. In the face of an increasingly diverse and multicultural nation, we have relentlessly carved up audiences into smaller groups based on minor differences rather than trying to understand the shared behaviours of people.

It’s time to stop trying to name the next Gen-something and get to grips with the mutual elements that drive people to engage with brands and ultimately purchase product.

The rise of the ethnic media agency is a worrying manifestation of our fixation on segmentation. Founded on the principle that multicultural societies deserve to have advertising that reflects the diverse landscape, these ‘specialist’ services have been set up to understand and target ethnic minorities across the UK.

Are we now saying that ‘ethnic minority’ is a segment? In a country that is making moves to becoming more integrated, we’re actually creating more segregation.
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If we start dealing with ‘specialist’ audiences away from ‘the norm’, we are undermining the sole purpose of the media agency to have expertise in audience planning, regardless of cultural background or media choices. It is our job to debunk sweeping generalisations and seek out valuable behavioural, cultural and aspirational insights.

And we’re not just talking about unnecessary cultural segments here. One of the oldest forms of segmentation is the social grading system which was originally a way of distinguishing the wealthy from the poor.

I would argue that clients and agencies are still defaulting to an ABC1 target audience under the assumption certain groups are more affluent and therefore more likely to buy our products.

We need to start challenging clients to identify who their audiences actually are and re-adjust our attitudes to segmentation to identify the key opportunities for growth.

Thankfully, there has been some more enlightened thinking in the industry. A recent article by the Economist declares that rather than chasing the millennial generation like a good many brands, they instead target readers with progressive attitudes and behaviours who will obviously come in all shapes and sizes.

Warc has also realised the power of appealing to shared behaviours revealing that life events, such as moving house, dramatically affect people’s brand choices and increase the probability of considering new brands by at least 75 per cent.

Tapping into shared mind-sets and emotions makes for much more effective targeting than creating needless labels. They’re people before they’re consumers – we need to treat them accordingly.

Segmentation will, of course, always have a role to play in media and creative planning – it can help us identify target markets and growth opportunities for our brands.

But our approach needs to be colourless, ageless, without gender bias and above all, inclusive. The boxes that marketers have become so used to need to be dismantled and put back together using a different kind of framework, so that we can find a good balance between customization and standardization without alienating people.

As a woman, an ethnic minority and a millennial, I implore the industry to start now.

SabrinaSabrina Francis is a digital strategistat Arena Media.
@srfrancis86

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.