Market segmentation by demographics, geography, etc. is a common exercise that helps marketers to form their go-to-market strategies. Most of these segmentation efforts are based on hypothesis or inferences of which segment of the consumer population would be the best target market. These methods have served us reasonably well in the past, but “the times they are a-changin.” New research, innovative technologies and shifts in consumer behavior offer new opportunities to look at this differently.
In the past I wrote about the concept of segmenting by customer expectations, and how that became possible with the proliferation of online and unsolicited customer feedback. There is no doubt that the untamed voice of social customers is dramatically changing the marketing landscape, as they share their authentic and detailed experiences with specific products and services online. Shoppers actively seek this information when choosing their next purchase to see how their expectations match the experiences of others. Therefore, from the perspective of a marketing practitioner who develops go-to-market strategies, it is critically important to understand how their products are affected by this tsunami of information.
Every purchasing decision is influenced by a mix of information sources. Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, in their book “Absolute Value – What Really Influences Customers in The Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information”, proposed to organize these sources into 3 groups:
- Past – a customer’s experiences, memories, perceptions
- Social – advices and recommendations of other people
- Marketing – all and any information originated by a seller
The power of influence by each of these groups is very different depending on the type of product the consumer is selecting. A clear understanding of how this mix relates to a specific product can maximize an impact of your financial and intellectual resources.
Every choice is based on expectation of experience, and carries an uncertainty of whether this expectation will be met. Some types of products inherently possess more uncertainty from the buyer’s perspective than others, and that is reflected in the raising impact of one information group at the expense of the other two groups of the influence mix. Additionally, one has to consider the customer’s financial and social exposure to risk if the product fails to deliver expected experience. Below is a chart that illustrates potential influence mix fluctuations based on different product samples.
This is only an illustration as every product category has to be closely analyzed from the influence mix perspective before an appropriate strategy is selected.
However, the practical implications of this approach are hard to overestimate. For example, the automobiles, baby products, or consumer electronics respond very well to influencer marketing. Developing brand “ambassadors” is the most effective strategy for these types of products. Within the automobile industry, the second best approach is to channel marketing dollars into customer service for re-enforcement of current customers’ perception of brand value. Traditional marketing techniques, like TV commercials, direct mail, etc. where most auto dealers waste their budgets, are the least effective investment for differentiating your brand.
The mantra to remember is – customers don’t buy products, they are shopping for experiences. And, they likely make their buying choices based on past experience with a brand, or experiences of other people.