Ask the Experts: What’s Key to a Successful Segmentation?
by Kelly Sons

  • Keys to A Successful Segmentation

    In my role as a Research Manager, I often think about the fact that one of the truly great things about my position at Decision Analyst is having access to so many experts within the company to partner with in designing and executing optimal research studies for my clients.

    So, I thought I’d let you in on expert advice on the topic of segmentation from three of my colleagues with varied areas of expertise. Below are some tips for ensuring a successful segmentation, from discipline experts I trust and rely on.

  • Elizabeth Horn

    Elizabeth Horn, Ph.D.
    Senior Vice President
    Advanced Analytics


Well-conducted segmentation initiatives are highly beneficial, but they also are expensive and time-intensive for the organization. Done properly, by including stakeholder interviews, qualitative exploration, quantitative segmentation, qualitative persona development, and an activation workshop, segmentations can take months and require the ongoing attention of internal business partners. When the research and the initial activation process is finished, there remains the big job of socializing the segments throughout the organization. It sounds trite but you should begin any segmentation engagement with how you want to end it—together, hand in hand with your stakeholders.

Bringing your business partners along on the segmentation journey makes for a smoother activation and socialization process. Ensure that you know how sales will use the segmentation, how marketing is planning to execute on the learnings, and how product development wants the insights delivered. Don't forget that one of the most important ways to activate your segmentation is to overlay the survey-based segments onto your customer/prospect database. Your business partners can keep track of marketing campaigns that have influenced incremental purchases and customer acquisition. The sales team can identify more profitable segments and spend more time generating additional business.

  • Clay Dethloff

    Clay Dethloff
    Senior Vice President
    Qualitative Research


As Elizabeth mentioned, often one of the first steps in a segmentation effort is to conduct preliminary qualitative research, first with stakeholder interviews that solicit input and ensure alignment and then with in-depth interviews among existing and/or potential customers. The goal of the latter is to begin to understand the target audience’s behaviors, needs, and motivations—in their own words—to help lay the foundation for the segmentation and inform development of a quantitative survey that includes relevant content in language the target audience understands.

These interviews typically consist of 20 to 30 respondents. From a sample standpoint, you generally want to cast as wide a net as possible to ensure you’re including various constituencies and identifying all the diverse aspects associated with the brand and/or category. In a category segmentation, for example, include respondents from various brands and diverse usage situations, as well as relevant ages, geographies, life stages, etc.

In terms of discussion guide development, partnership with members of Client Service and Advanced Analytics teams is crucial to ensuring they’ll have the information needed to develop a quantitative survey that leads to differentiated segments and actionable insights.

  • Matthew Delhagen

    Matthew Delhagen
    Vice President
    Panel and Sample


To reduce the margin of error, segmentations typically lean towards larger sample sizes. And on paper, it sounds wonderful to survey 1,000 respondents and have a 95% confidence level of ±3.1% margin of error. But after determining the study scope, there’s often more to consider.

Understanding representation plays a vital role in determining the overall sample size and in reporting. Are you using quotas, or are you allowing your respondent composition to fall naturally, which would mean needing a larger base size? Can your panel provider’s panel blend manage the quotas you’ve put in place? If the study is falling naturally, does their panel blend have any bias from recruitment factors? These are just a few discussions you should start to have with your research team. Communication with the panel provider early on will lead towards a smoother and more successful execution of your segmentation survey.

About the Author

Kelly Sons is a Research Manager at Decision Analyst, and she welcomes feedback and comments. She may be reached by email or by phone at 1-817-640-6166.


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