“Segmentation is saying something to somebody instead of saying nothing to everybody.” — Jay Conrad Levinson Guerrilla Marketing, 1994

Next to research, market segmentation is arguably the most critical component of a successful social marketing or public communication campaign. In fact, research and segmentation are intimately linked. As alluded to in the quote above, segmentation addresses the reality that not all individuals/groups of people will respond to a given message, strategy, or offering in a universal way. That is to say, various differences among needs, values, beliefs, opinions, lifestyles, etc. will have a profound affect on the way in which people react to a campaign. In general, campaign efforts are significantly more effective when they are targeted towards a specific audience, especially one that shares a set of relevant characteristics. Segmentation, therefore, comprises the first step of identifying and selecting such audiences. So, what is segmentation? What are the steps in selecting a target audience? And finally, why are these principles so important and how are they applied in the arts?


Simply stated, segmentation is the process of grouping a larger population into smaller subsets according to certain variables and/or characteristics. Once segmented, individuals within each subset should have at least one important factor in common with other members of the same group. Exactly how you slice and dice a population, i.e. what variables and/or characteristics you use, depends largely on the purpose, focus, and goals of your particular campaign. In other words, no two campaigns will segment a potential market in exactly the same way. Even the scale of the population or “potential market” that you choose to segment will vary. For example, a nationwide campaign aimed at promoting arts education may look to segment the entire U.S. population. Or, on a much smaller scale, a theater or performing arts center may want to segment the local population or even just their current patrons.

Again, the actual variables used in the segmentation process are numerous, and selecting which ones to use will depend on the particulars of a given campaign. Below is a table that summarizes the most commonly used variables according to their different categories. variablesUltimately, the goal of segmentation is to identify several potential groups or “target audiences” by applying relevant criteria.

Selecting the Target Audience/s

Once the potential population or market has been segmented into relevant subsets, the next step is to evaluate each group or “audience” and select which ones you will target. The most common evaluation criteria for making your decision include:

  • Segment size – How many people?
  • Problem incidence / severity – What is the rate or frequency of the problem you’re trying to address and what is the consequence level?
  • General responsiveness – Is the segment ready, willing, and/or able to respond/change their behavior and to what degree?
  • Incremental costs – What is the cost of reaching this segment?
  • Organizational capabilities – What are our available resources, connections, partnerships, or expertise within the segment?

After evaluating each segment according to the above criteria, one or several target audiences should be selected. In general, target audiences for a social marketing campaign are those with the greatest need who are easiest to reach and the readiest for action.

But WHY?

Ah yes, the ultimate question. Why? Why go through the effort to engage in market segmentation? Why should I select only one or a just a few target audiences? Isn’t it better or more ethical to target everyone?

The reality is, most organizations involved in social marketing have a limited amount of resources when it comes to implementing a campaign. This is especially true of arts organizations. Without an unlimited budget, it is essential that resources are directed towards efforts that will have the most significant impact. Selecting audiences who are easiest to reach and the readiest for action is one way of ensuring a response or desired behavior. For example, you’re designing a campaign to increase participation and engagement in the arts. The focus of the campaign is to motivate people to attend an opera or ballet. Say you’ve segmented the potential market according to psychographic and behavioral characteristics and have identified three subsets:

  1. People who never attend arts events and believe that the arts have no value.
  2. People who attend arts events on occasion and believe that the arts are somewhat valuable.
  3. People who frequently attend arts events and highly value the arts.

Who are you going to target? Where are you going to focus your efforts? While you may see the greatest “need” within the first subset, the likelihood of getting this group to attend an opera or ballet is slim. Unfortunately, concentrating your resources on this group is likely to be a waste. On the opposite end, targeting the third group would not have a noticeable impact. The second subset, however, has the greatest potential for change. Thus, concentrating on or “targeting” this group would constitute the wisest use of valuable resources.

Ultimately, by recognizing that different audiences require different strategies and that different groups contain different potentials for impact, segmentation allows us to develop sophisticated campaigns that utilize limited resources in a more strategic, effective, and efficient way.

Resources for the Arts

Finding your Audience through Market Segmentation – A useful chapter on market segmentation specific to arts organizations. This chapter is part of an eBook called Practical Lessons, which is distributed by the National Arts Marketing Project (part of Americans for the Arts). The entire eBook can be found here.