Date Posted: 24/9/19

I’m yet to experience even a glimmer of excitement or inspiration from a customer segmentation profile.

I’m talking about the syndicated research personas you see presented in marketing plans. They often come wrapped in catchy names like Sensible Suburbanites, Metrotechs or Leading Lifestyles.

The story might play out that our target audience is between the age of 25 and 45, has a mortgage, enjoys reading the newspaper on weekends, an occasional user of the internet and likes to shop for locally and organically sourced food. Next slide. Insert another profile name and stock image of the audience in question and away we go.

I understand these models are best fit, and for the purpose of general awareness they probably do the job. I just wonder what the hell I’m supposed to do with it. Despite being backed by quantitative research, they always seem to come out lifeless and drab. I know everything about this audience, and also absolutely nothing.

People don’t come out of a box with instruction manuals, so why do we insist on retrofitting them back in? As human beings, we can’t reliably trust ourselves or be considered to have one single identity, let alone be force-fit into a convenient group of people, who apparently share similar characteristics with us.

    Here are a few scenarios to consider:
  • A well-to-do person shops at a thrift store.
  • A person struggling to make ends meet drives a Mercedes.
  • A young, educated couple living in an inner-city suburb doesn’t own a social media account.

Ok, this is probably not the norm. But it’s possible. And also, interesting. The point is that creativity isn’t concerned with taxonomy or idle descriptions of your target market. It draws power from ambiguity and nuance, the unfamiliar and the unsaid. To get closer to this we should aim to explore context, culture and individual behaviour.

Data can be powerful, and we should embrace it wholly. It would be remiss of us not to. Though when doing so it’s best to run it through a filter of your own judgement and experience.

You may have recently heard about JP Morgan signing a deal with an A.I. tech firm called Persado to write marketing copy. According to Persado, it is reinventing digital marketing by applying mathematical certainty to words. In one telling example the A.I. wrote ads that generated two to five times the response compared with human copywriters. The response here being clicks, and we’ll leave the question for now as to whether clicks and actual marketing effectiveness are causally related.

This is intriguing news and a sign of the leading role data will play in our industry. However, the mix of data and creativity is not a zero-sum game and isn’t likely to be anytime soon.

It’s worth keeping in mind that data cannot tell the full story, especially the next time you see a segmentation profile of your target audience.

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Antoni Buccini

Written By: Antoni Buccini

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