Audience segmentation is a process of breaking a large group into segments based on shared properties in order to better analyze response data. This process is frequently done to determine audience reaction toward consumer products, but can also be done to analyze audience data about social concepts and political ideas or candidates. Using audience segmentation, research analysts are able to break down large, often convoluted responses into targeted sections that can inform marketing, product, or media decisions.
Segmentation may be done on a wide variety of criteria. Common categories for audience segmentation include age, gender, level of education, level of income, geographic location and political affiliation. Usually, segmentation is defined using several criteria, such as a segment of women between 18-49. Since a segment like that might include millions of women with widely different backgrounds and viewpoints, psychological and behavioral characteristics are frequently employed to create more specific groups. For instance, a manageable subcategory might be women between 18-49 who self-identify as Democrats.
Often, audience segmentation is done to create targeted marketing and advertising. If a political candidate seems to be testing badly with women, segmentation based on surveys might show that the true weakness is with single mothers with low incomes. In order to improve performance in this segment, the candidate might need to focus on issues that could be considered important by single mothers with low incomes, such as affordable health care, maternity leave, and tuition assistance programs. These may all be issues that the politician feels very strongly about to begin with, but by highlighting their importance, the campaign may draw a better response from this particular segment.
Though primarily thought of as a consumer product and political device, audience segmentation is frequently used in targeted health initiatives as well. If a health care initiative is focused on encouraging testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), it would make no sense to advertise the campaign on children's television channels or in areas largely populated by elderly adults. Since the groups most vulnerable for STDs are young, sexually active adults, audience segmentation can help create advertising and services targeted toward this group. Similarly, a epidemic which disproportionately targets infants and the elderly might trigger health care officials to use audience segmentation to determine priority access to a vaccine.
Though segmentation can be a useful tool, it is not without controversy. Some argue that it encourages marketers to think of people as homogeneous groups rather than individuals. It may also limit creativity in any market, since financiers may be more likely to invest on ideas and concepts that have tested well with certain segments in the past, rather than take a risk on creating an innovative concept.