Ever since my DoubleClick days I have been interested in new approaches to segmentation. The thought of softer demographic segmentation as yesterday's idea is coming up more frequently at CMO CLUB dinners. So what real thought leadership is out there? I heard about Tom Cotton and the crew at Protagonist some weeks back and the work they are doing based on their experience in the political arena so thought I would get more details and share with CMOs in the club. Here is highlights from my conversation with Tom.
1) One of the most important priorities for CMOs in the club is customer segmentation. How do you see the approach to segmentation changing from 5 years ago?
Back in 2004, segmentation was primarily demographic, not behavioral, and often hard to activate in the fast-changing media world. Consumer behavior now cuts across traditional demographic lines and gives us a very different opportunity to reach a richer, more focused target.
Today, every research and advertising dollar has to work harder to better identify, reach and persuade the right consumers to purchase. So we believe the days of “soft demographic segmentation” that’s hard to activate and doesn’t drive a higher ROI are over.
2) We all hear a lot about “behavioral marketing” these days...can you tell us a little more about how you use it in your segmentation work?
If this decade has taught us anything it’s that people from diverse socio-economic, life-stage and gender demographics now often share common interests and behaviors. This is clearly tied into the free flow of—and easier access to—information, the ever-lower barriers to “participation”, the explosion of media and information choices, and the world growing smaller as it gets bigger. And the web—and even cable TV—makes it much easier today to find people with like interests and behaviors and market to these niche interests.
To leverage all this, we use the behavioral techniques developed for political polling and segmentation to identify consumer behavior, focusing on moving consumers to “vote” for our clients’ products and services.
3) Can you tell me more about how the political segmentation approach can work for consumer products companies and retailers?
The political segmentation model identifies the “who and what” that really count for any marketer: Who are my most high-value and persuadable targets (“the swing”) and what can I say to them to move them into action? These “swing voters”, and the brand positioning and messaging that motivates them to purchase, deliver a rich vein of high-value customers who we then activate for our clients. And in the hypercompetitive world we’re now in, whether we’re speaking about politics or commerce, there’s no time to waste in reaching the swing: you need to reach, influence and move them before your opponent strikes a resonant chord.
In addition to the swing, we identify two other key groups: a brand’s “base,” who are the loyal customers we can retain through more efficient tactics than classic acquisition, and the “opposition” who will likely never purchase our clients’ products or services, no matter how much we spend to woo them.
With the swing, base and opposition identified, we can then minimize wasteful investment against the opposition, heavy-up against the swing, nurture the base, and deliver a higher ROI for our clients’ marketing efforts.
4) Give us a little personal history on all this, if you would, and how it become what you now call ExactCast…
Our political work goes back to the mid-90’s when we led the FCB/Penn & Schoen teams that AT&T hired to take on MCI. AT&T ultimately prevailed in that fight, and we’ve built on that pioneering work ever since. (Also note that Bernard Whitman, Protagonist’s political partner and guru who runs Whitman Insight Strategies, just ran the successful Bloomberg mayoral campaign.)
ExactCast fully bloomed a few years ago when Unilever asked us to help them “narrowcast” a brand’s communications that were not breaking through via traditional mass marketing. To accomplish this, we added the “where” into our all-behavioral quantitative practice: Determining through our custom research where—that is, through which channel—the swing can be reached most productively and persuasively. Now, through our proprietary LivePlan media service, led by Jim Geoghegan of MediaHead, we can plan (and re-plan and optimize “live,” on the fly) the highest-ROI media channels that stimulate actual purchase behavior, all tied into available syndicated media databases (e.g., Simmons, MRI) as needed.
In addition, we’ve now added a highly-disruptive “how” to the mix: We’ve always been a full-service ad agency; but in addition to creating strong creative, we are now able to tailor and “version” messaging in any medium (from TV to print to digital to collateral) through LiveCast, our “online production studio” that enables us to produce and distribute swing-optimized messaging through the optimal channels to reach our clients’ high-value consumers. We’ve built this system with LiveTechnology, the global leader in desktop production and distribution, and it takes political segmentation end-to-end for the first time: From swing target, messaging and media planning right through creative development, execution and distribution while keeping our quant-based focus on reaching the right consumer with the right message through the right channel at the right time.
We think this is a true game-changer for clients who are willing to step up and strip away the waste in the traditional marketing communications process, front to back.
5) Where do you see the biggest opportunities for applying this new approach to segmentation? And can you share examples of what companies are doing today, and key lessons learned?
The biggest opportunities may lie in industries under the most pressure to drive a higher marketing communications ROI. Candidates might include automotive, retailing, financial services or technology. Other candidates are mass marketers who know they are wasting dollars “broadcasting” to consumers when “narrowcasting” is the way to go, but they don’t know how to go about it.
Our current assignments include multiple brands at Unilever, as well as a major start-up in the personal care business. We’ve also executed ExactCasts over the last two years in the U.S., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Greece.
No matter what the product or service, or the country in which we’ve delivered ExactCasts, a few lessons continue to emerge:
• The “swing” is almost always “demographically flat.” When you’re looking for actual behavior that moves markets, and the stimulus that can put that behavior into motion, it’s remarkable how the most important business-building behaviors can cut across classic demographic lines. This can pose a challenge for old-school media practices, by the way, since after discovering exciting “behavioral truths” that can change the game for a brand, it can be “a great leap backward” to then purchase media demographically to stimulate these consumers. This is why we built a full media practice into our model.
• There’s a huge amount of waste in the traditional marketing communications process. Whether it’s spillover spending against consumers who’ll never purchase a brand, or expensive segmentation that isn’t actionable, or messaging that doesn’t move the swing, or needless “versioning expense” using old-school production techniques, a third of most budgets are wasted. We can either help cut that spending for clients, or put that “found money” to work far more productively.
• The messaging that moves the swing always presents a surprise or two. We are able to “surround” the messaging candidates in workshops with our clients, but it’s rare that we’re not surprised with what floats to the top in our quant work, or how the consumer helps us optimize the messaging architecture through our factor and cluster analyses. As IBM used to say in an early 1980s ad campaign, “it’s how we put it all together that sets us apart,” and it’s always a thrill to see it come together.
6) What advice would you give the CMOs in the club when thinking about their segmentation and differentiation approaches?
We’d serve up advice to your members in the form of three questions:
• Do you have a “behavioral X-ray” of your highest-value customers and prospects?
• Do you know how to activate behavioral marketing?
• Do you think you might be wasting precious marketing dollars, but you’re not sure where that waste is?
You can get more details on Protagonist and ExactCast at www.beaprotagonist.com