The Quandary of the Un-targeted Segment

different concepts - orange between apples

It’s happened several times now. The results of the tracking study or the copy test or the concept test come in and the analysis shows that, in addition to getting good results with the target segments, one of the un-targeted segments is making a strong showing. Very often we hear someone say, “What are we doing wrong?” Well, maybe nothing and just maybe those Clients were doing something very right for both the target and the “uns”. Our advice has been: don’t toss that learning…there just may be more work to do to figure out “why” your message is resonating with these segments and optimize the situation.


It all starts with why segmentation is done in the first place. At its best, a robust segmentation is both a tool and a yardstick. As a tool it helps identify the highest potential target in actionable terms, it drives efficiency by focusing effort on those targets and can help drive differentiation by helping to avoid the need to be “all things to all people.” As a yardstick it allows you to learn how effective your efforts are, optimize those efforts and (and we’ve often seen this aspect overlooked) to evolve the segmentation as the understanding of the target improves with each effort.

So, should the appeal of a brand to an un-targeted segment be cause for concern? Well, as with so many aspects of marketing, the answer is a resounding, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” It’s “yes” if it can be demonstrated that the un-targeted segment’s interest is at the cost of a more focused effort against the larger key segments. Or, “no” if this is a sign that the insight into the core target is more universal and can be better leveraged. If this is truly “free” interest resulting from unexpected appeal to an un-targeted segment then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the assumptions about this group.

Here are a few things experience has taught us about dealing with the “un-targeted segment” specifically and segmentation in general.

Beware the segment “handle” A great deal of rigorous data collection and statistical analysis goes into identifying the differentiating characteristics that define discrete segments. It’s been our experience, though, that sometime the process of assigning an easy to remember moniker to the segment is not quite as precise. In fact, there have been times when we’ve found them downright misleading. Take the case of the “disengaged” segment that seemed to be very much “engaged”. When we would delve into that segment, it turned out they were not disengaged at all. It was just that up until that point they had been “unmotivated.” Something in the messaging to the core target elicited motivation and tapped into a whole new source of business. So, we try to make sure we are not misled by easy to remember, but imprecise segment “handles.” We analyze them with as much attention as we do the targets in the segments.

Segmentation is not one-and-done We have seen cases where the segmentation, once done, stood monolithically above the brand and all brand activity. Sacrosanct and immutable. But the more effective applications of segmentation we’ve seen have been where the segmentation is looked at as a living, rather than a static, thing. After all, the marketplace changes – the competition changes – society changes and, of course, so does the target. Regularly revisiting and challenging the existing segmentation and targeting assumptions has in some cases not just kept the brand current, but has even identified early shifts and trends. That, in turn, has allowed the brand to lead and benefit from imminent change. It’s probably not necessary, advisable (or financially feasible) to start from scratch. We have found that just checking in with the target through small scale investigation has validated current assumptions and uncovered new trends.

A three-dimensional profile is much more powerful In the majority of cases we’ve seen, the segment profiles concentrate on the target characteristics related specifically to category behavior. This kind of focused behavioral profile is certainly valuable in understanding and leveraging category behavior. But, category behavior does not take place in a vacuum. What we have found, in almost all cases, is that segmentation can be an even more effective tool if the target’s profile is fully dimensionalized with a vivid understanding of that target’s psychographic profile as well… their perceptions, beliefs, desires, demands. This fully realized profile has proven to drive even more effective marketing leverage.

So, with both the un-targeted and targeted segments on your mind, for today’s Strategy Break here are a few questions related to getting the most out of your segmentation investment:
  • Do I know if and why an un-targeted segment is attracted to my brand or the brand message and does that signal the need to adjust our marketing efforts or targeting strategy?
  • Can the segment profiles be even more vivid to make them even more leverageable?
  • When is the last time I re-examined the segments to insure they are as current and relevant as they can be?

And, while you’re thinking about that un-targeted segment we’d be happy to help you think through the opportunities to optimize and maximize the application of your brand’s segmentation…just make us a tickler list target.

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