Communicating with your target audience by segmenting based upon their values

At contentgroup we focus upon communication and engagement between government and the citizens of Australia.  We do this because the public service across Australia has wonderful stories to tell. The communities served, benefit greatly from knowing both what the public service does, what has been conducted on their behalf and what new programmes and service offerings are available for them. The closer the relationship between the citizens and the public service the greater the ability of these groups to influence and prioritise the services provided by the government.

In a recent contentgroup blog, I wrote about “Understanding your target audience by understanding their lived experience”.  In this blog, I would like to take that conversation a step further and address the targeting of those people within the day-to-day of their personal life by segmenting them based upon their values.

Looking at stakeholder engagement and communication from the perspective of the lived experience of your target audience means that you listen to and understand their life and the impact that decisions of government will have directly on their life. Acknowledging that lived experience of your audience is critical to success but how do we most effectively target our target audience.  The marketing discipline has learnt to segment the market and the most effective form of segmentation is that based upon the values of our desired audience.

Segmentation is simply the process of dividing information into groups with the aim of providing some meaning to the groupings and reducing the chaos and disorder of the original mass of information. In marketing, segmentation has usually referred to as the way of defining the groupings of customers.

Marketing, as a business discipline was a development of the early twentieth century and was used particularly in the USA. Here the emergence of a strong middle class gave rise to the concept of the ‘mass market’. Henry Ford’s view on consumer’s choice with the model T-Ford – “give them any colour so long as it is black” is the best example of the beliefs of that time when the product was king, and people were expected to purchase it how it was.  Following the end of the Second World War, there was a long period of prosperity and great social change. Children born immediately after the War (Baby Boomers) were recipients of high levels of education, changing social patterns relating to families, the role of women and the emphasis of family. This group of people were largely different from their parents, they had different beliefs, activities and higher purchasing power and were willing consumers.

Companies had to find different ways of segmenting the market and turned to methods such as lifestyle or activities. These methods were based on the premise that behaviour was an outward demonstration of what people thought and that people who did the same types of things were the same types of people. This approach was successfully adopted through the ’60s and ’70s. However, the changes in the levels of economic prosperity in the late ’70s and ’80s led to marketers needing to find segmentation methods that were more related to the core aspects of the person.

Since the end of the Second World War, psychology has also moved down a path of trying to understand the core aspects of a person. One of the key figures in this area was Abraham Maslow, who is most famous for his theory of the hierarchy of needs. Maslow focused on the notion that at the core of each person was a series of ‘values’ or beliefs about the world that would be unlikely to change over time. He (and many philosophers before him) believed that these values formed the basis of an individual’s personality and all other aspects of the self could be understood if these core values were understood.

Maslow’s work on personal values systems was adopted as the core element of a number of segmentation approaches in the United States in the mid-1980s and used over the next decade. However, the same problem applied to this model as applied to all other segmentation models. People did not stay in the box where they were initially assigned, in communications this is the critical issue, this is how we identify our target markets.

The resolution to this issue is to understand that while individuals move from one box to another depending on the context of the situation, they will not move far from their core values and that within any culture the boxes will have a specific meaning and can be standardised.

Given a particular situation an individual will respond according to their individual psychology and cultural norms. The individuals’ response will reflect one of the cultural norms that most closely reflect their personal values, however, individuals will move in and out of the different ‘values mindsets’ based on their experiences of different situations.

Thus, segmentation requires a sociological approach. It looks at the norms of the society and understands how these are played out in the symbols and messages to which our society adheres. People accept those norms and in certain situations take on the norms, which society has established for those situations. We all say that ‘different situations require a different response’ and this is as true at the broader level of society as it is for the individual. A sociological segmentation attempts to understand how the different sub-cultures (here based on values) will respond to the different situations.

As communicators, it is our role to understand those ‘values mindsets’ and what are the triggers that turn them on and off for different people. From a segmentation view, it is important to understand that we are not putting people in boxes but that there are a number of boxes or ‘values mindsets’ that people are more likely to be comfortable in, however, they will move around in those boxes on a daily basis.

In addition to our core capabilities, contentgroup is fortunate to have highly skilled, research partners located across Australia.  They are in academic, pracademic and commercial environments.

Please contact me if you would like more information on how to access their amazing insights on your target audience, their lived experience and the segmentation of your audience based upon values.



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