I was recently reading about the behavioural bias known as the false consensus effect, which leads us to overestimate the extent to which other people think like us. There are a variety of studies which prove this to be true, but it got me thinking about the reasons why we overestimate the similarity between ourselves and others. In simple terms, I believe this is because we tend to surround ourselves with likeminded people.

This presents us with the truth that whilst many people don’t think like us, others do have similar attitudes and beliefs: And often these are aligned across several different topic areas. For the marketing community therefore, it’s important to understand how your market divides down into groups of ‘likeminded’ people with particular attitudes and beliefs that will likely impact upon the perceived desirability of your brand.

Segmentation is a key marketing tool used to ensure that marketing campaigns are designed with a defined and well-understood target group of customers in mind. Firstly, identifying which customers to target, and secondly, building communications which resonate with the attitudes and beliefs of those people you wish to target.

But there’s a problem. And this problem is particularly evident in the pharmaceutical sector where mass marketing campaigns are neither feasible nor desirable. The problem is that the two key objectives of a market segmentation (targeting and communicating), whilst complementary to one another, are also at odds with each other.

Let me explain: In order to adequately target customers, pharmaceutical companies tend to rely on more functional aspects such as the size of the hospital, job role and past prescribing behaviour. This is because it’s hard to identify customers in any other way. Marketing activities are much more targeted in the pharma world. Representative calls are an important way in which we can expose healthcare professionals to both new and existing products, but with shrinking sales forces, it’s simply not possible to speak to everyone, and so you need to drill down to those people who you can practically identify and contact.

However, as we’ve established, the strength of segmentation is in identifying ‘likeminded’ groups of customers who are more likely to be open to your product and for whom messages can be tailored so they leverage existing attitudes and beliefs. Segmentation in the pharma industry therefore needs to strike a balance between segmenting based on attitudes and segmenting based on logistical feasibility.

What is the answer to the “segmentation problem”?

At HRW, we employ a more fluid approach to segmentation and see the process as an art supported by science (click this link to see more about the validity and history of HRW’s segmentation methodology in Professor David Thomson’s blog). We do generally favour an approach whereby we segment on the basis of attitudes, but we also seek to understand how our clients are practically going to implement the segmentation.

Fundamentally, we know that attitudes inform behaviours, and we are cognisant of the fact that your target audience may already be defined. Understanding this and then identifying which (attitudinal) segments exist within your audience is essential. This way, tailored discussions can take place with different subsets of your overall customer target.

The practical issues of identifying subsegments within your overall target group presents a further challenge, but one which can effectively be overcome if your sales teams are equipped with an understanding of which customer segments exist. Bringing your segmentation to life and letting it live within your company will empower all functions to seamlessly develop materials and ways of communicating that can be adjusted to meet the needs of those core attitudinal segments.

We know that when it comes to segmentation, there is so much more that can be delivered beyond a traditional PowerPoint deck itself. We are always challenging ourselves to prepare deliverables that are easily used, understood and acted upon – but also those that have impact, resonate and bring segments to life, so that they are remembered and more easily embedded into a company. In a recent segmentation study, we sought to ensure exactly this. There were a couple of critical factors to achieving our goal:

1) Thinking about how we shared and implemented the findings

Collaboration with our client was key. We utilised several workshops to ensure that the segmentation was meeting their needs every step of the way. This included an early solutions workshop where we talked through different analysis options and agreed which model would be most actionable and sensible for the team. We then facilitated a final implementation workshop where we presented key data posters around the room, discussed strategy and tactics for communication, as well as brainstorming how to personify and name the segments – immersing everyone in the segmentation and embedding the results.

2) Thinking about the outputs that we provided our client

Alongside the key data results, we created a short but powerful video animation to introduce the segments one by one – sharing the key essence of the segment in a simple yet effective way. We also created stimulating infographics for each segment which enabled us to share key data and visuals in a digestible ‘takeaway’ format. These deliverables had maximum impact in showcasing who the segments were in a memorable way.

Utilising your deliverables, all that is needed is equipping your team with a few key questions that can be unobtrusively added to a discussion, to identify which approach is likely to resonate most. Equally, it is easier to identify those who are unlikely to be convinced about your product offering and so less time and effort can be spent in these engagements.

Indeed, even having an understanding that ‘not everyone thinks alike’ is a helpful step in understanding that market communications need to be tailored for different audiences. Attitudinal segmentation is a powerful way to support your communication and targeting strategy to ensure that your brand is a success.


By Nicola Vyas

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