Home >  Principles of Market Segmentation By William D. Neal William D. Neal is Founder and Senior Executive Officer of SDR Inc., a pro

Principles of Market Segmentation By William D. Neal William D. Neal is Founder and Senior Executive Officer of SDR Inc., a pro


Principles of Market Segmentation
By William D. Neal
William D. Neal is Founder and Senior Executive Officer of SDR Inc., a professional services and consulting firm specializing in advanced marketing research methods, prodedures and technologies.
  1. Introduction
For most business firms, locating and specifically targeting unique market segments is both a reality and a necessity in today's competitive marketplace. In North America, for example, the assumptions of the mass market no longer hold true for most businesses and product categories. 
Creative market segmentation strategies often afford the business organization a strategic advantage over its competition. Foreign firms often enter a domestic market by segmenting the market, uncovering an underserved niche, and then concentrating their marketing and financial resources into that niche.

What is Market Segmentation?

In order to be a true market segment, the people or organizations in each segment must respond differently to variations in the marketing mix compared with those in other segments. This implies that for any classification scheme to qualify as market segmentation, the segments must exhibit these behavioral response differences. 
In their 1978 book Research for Marketing Decisions, Paul Green and Donald Tull set four basic criteria for market segmentation:  

  1. The segments must exist in the environment (and not be a figment of the researcher's imagination),
  2. The segments must be identifiable (repeatedly and consistently),
  3. The segments must be reasonably stable over time, and
  4. One must be able to efficiently reach segments (through specifically targeted distribution and communication initiatives).

Market Segmentation and Strategic Planning

A market segmentation strategy requires a major commitment by the organization. A firm adopts either a mass-market strategy or a market segmentation strategy. There is no in-between.  
Senior management must be involved, and a strategic decision is required to effectively segment a market. The firm's marketing organization must be able to execute alternative marketing strategies and vary pricing, promotion, and/or distribution systems.  
Also, R&D must be able to execute product variations, and manufacturing must be able to produce those variations. Finance must be able to report costs, profits, and margins by market segment, and marketing research must be able to monitor and measure customer response and provide feedback to the organization by market segment. 
Typically, the firm will develop market segments for each product category and/or broad geographic market. Next it will discern its current and proposed positions within each of those segments and select its target markets on the basis of the opportunities that exist in each segment.  
At that point, the firm sets initial forecasts of the market demand for each segment. Then, the firm will typically fine-tune its marketing mix to achieve optimal positioning and penetration in each selected target market.

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Principles of Market Segmentation

  2. Methods for Market Segmentation

Methods and Bases for Market Segmentation

When a decision is made to explore a market segmentation policy, two immediate questions must be addressed. First, what method is to be used to segment the market, and second, on what basis will the market be segmented? 
Broadly speaking, there are only two methods for segmenting a mar-ket: a priori and post hoc methods. Each will be discussed in greater detail later.  
The bases available for segmenting a market are nearly unlimited and can include such things as: 

  • Product class behaviors,
  • Product class preferences,
  • Product class-related attitudes,
  • Brand selection behavior,
  • Brand-related attitudes,
  • Purchasers' attitudes toward themselves and their environment,
  • Demographics,
  • Geographics, and
  • Socioeconomic status.

A Priori Methods

A priori segmentation is a procedure whereby a company chooses to break out customer groups by a generally accepted classification procedure related to variations in customer purchase or usage of the product category.  
This grouping may be the result of company tradition, recognized industrial groups, or some other external or internal criteria. Examples of a priori segments include such classification schemes as: 

  • Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) groups,
  • Geographic regions or sales territories,
  • Basic demographic groups (e.g., sex, age, household compo-sition),
  • Purchase or usage groups (e.g., heavy users, light users, nonusers),
  • VALS (SRI's Values and Life Styles classification system), and
  • PRIZM, or similar geodemographic classification systems.

There are several cautions that should be recognized when using a pri-ori criterion for segmenting a market. The following are some major ones: 

  1. Our society is dynamic! Segmentation studies conducted, or validated, three or four years ago may not be appropriate today. Revalidate segments from baseline studies periodi-cally to check their stability, size, and consistent response to variations in the marketing mix.
  2. Do not use a priori segmentation as a substitute for lazy thinking or low research budgets. A mis-segmented market is often worse for the firm than the mass-market assumption.
  3. Segments based on some a priori criteria may be unstable. Consider what has happened to the microcomputer market, and the segments therein, over the past five years.
  4. Discernible segments may not exist. For example, regular unleaded gasoline is now a commodity. Price competition can easily overcome a segmentation strat-egy when there is little perceived difference between offer-ings in a product category.

Post Hoc Segmentation Method; and Procedures

Post hoc segmentation is empirically derived based on the results of a research study undertaken for the specific purpose of segment-ing a market. Segments generated from such a study are formed by aggre-gating buyers who respond similarly to a set, or sets, of basis questions.  
The most critical question facing the researcher in conducting a post hoc segmentation study is selecting the basis variables for the segmenta-tion. It takes an astute and product-experienced researcher to chose the relevant set. Examples include: 

  • Product attribute preferences,
  • Values,
  • Product purchase patterns,
  • Product usage patterns,
  • Benefits sought,
  • Brand preferences,
  • Price sensitivity
  • Brand loyalty,
  • Socioeconomic status,
  • Deal proneness,
  • Lifestyles,
  • Self-image,
  • Attitudes and opinions toward one's environment,
  • Dealer loyalty

The initial market segmentation research to first form post hoc market segments is usually called a baseline segmentation study. A baseline post hoc segmentation study will usually include a large number of non-basis variables, called descriptive variables. These descriptive variables are used to further describe and help delineate the segments that are derived from the basis variables.

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Principles of Market Segmentation

3. Post Hoc Segmentation Studies


Conducting a Post Hoc Segmentation Study

The characteristics of a baseline segmentation study are as follows: 

  1. The study includes both current and contemplated products.
  2. It includes both current and expected purchaser groups.
  3. It typically supports strategic planning at the corporate or business unit level and thus requires senior management involvement at the onset.
  4. It uses a large sample and a large number of variables to allow for the analysis of alternative bases for segmentation.
  5. The selected basis variables are suitable for inclusion in a classification model that will be used in subsequent research to break out the segments discovered in the baseline study
  6. Descriptive media usage variables are usually included in the study to provide major input to the communications and pro-motional processes.
  7. A large amount of time is spent in the data analysis phase of the baseline study to explore alternative segmentation meth-ods and alternative bases.
  8. Because of the preceding, baseline segmentation studies tend to be expensive and time-consuming.

In general, there are four major classes of traditional algorithms for conducting traditional post hoc seg-mentation studies. They are: 

  1. Cluster analysis,

    1. Correspondence analysis,
    2. Search procedures, and
    3. Q-type factor analysis.

    To learn more about these techniques, visit MarketingPower��s Electronic Statistics Textbook
    By a considerable margin, cluster analysis procedures have been the most popular. Correspondence analysis procedures are gaining some popularity in the applied marketing research arena. Search procedures are also widely used, especially for segmenting large databases. Q-type factor analysis has been mostly discredited and is seldom used.

    Some Cautions and Observations Regarding Post Hoc Segmentation 

    1. The number and size of segments are not known until after the data analysis phase is completed.
    2. The segmentability of the sample (and the population from which it is drawn) is unknown until after the data analysis phase of the study is completed.
    3. Segment stability and segment homogeneity are unknown until after the data analysis phase is completed.
    4. The size and complexity of subsequent classification models that are generated from a baseline post hoc segmentation study are not predictable and are unknown until the data analysis phase of the study is completed.
    5. Spend sufficient time on the front end of the study to obtain management consensus. Use previ-ous research, secondary data sources, and qualitative research to target the relevant set of basis variables.
    6. Misspecification of the segmentation model is a distinct possibility and must be addressed by uncovering and delineating sources of error in the study.

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Principles of Market Segmentation

4. Recent Developments in Segmentation


Since about 1995, there have been some interesting new developments in market segmentation research. The following sections discuss those recent advancements and include: 

  • Multidimensional segmentation,
  • Artificial neural networks,
  • Latent class models,
  • Fuzzy and overlapping clustering, and
  • Occasion-based segmentation.

Multidimensional Segmentation

There is no reason to limit the basis for segmentation to only one type of variable when many criteria actually determine buyers' responses to the selling proposition.  
A segmentation scheme based on multiple dimensions, using separate segmentation schemes for each one, is often more useful and more flexible for planning marketing strategy and executing marketing tactics.  
Thus, marketers may consider different segmentations on a sample of buyers using different bases such as: stated needs, benefits, and amount spent in the category. 
In the past, such segmentation schemes were deemed too confusing and produced too many segments for marketing managers to address effectively. Yet, in an era of micro-niche marketing and direct marketing tools, many market planners now consider market segmentation schemes that support finer targeting efforts.

Artificial Neural Networks

Starting in the early 1990s, ANNs have been developed to address host of analytical problems. Both the appeal and the bane of ANNs is the they do not require any particular underlying model formulation or data structure, as do regression analysis, logit modeling, or factor analysis. 
In general, ANNs are given a set of input variables and a set of known outcomes, and the algorithm is asked to find the best relationship between the inputs and the outputs. It does this by initially forming a trial relationship on a subset of the data, called the learning set.  
The algorithm then backs up through one or more "hidden layers" of input junctures, or neurons, and adjusts the weight of each input to that neuron to maximize its contribution to accurately predicting the outcome. Results are validated with a third sample, the validation sample 
There are some specialized neural networks designed to cluster cases of data. These fall in the class of unsupervised neural network meaning that the outcomes are not prespecified. 
One of the best known of these clustering ANNs is the Kohonan Self-Organizing Map. All ANNs of this type require a large number of cases because they need a large leaning sample, a large test sample, and a large validation sample. 
The usefulness of the clustering solution seems dependent on the initial selection of seeds or the shape of the transform function. Many alternative runs may be necessary to find an acceptable solution. 
Another issue with ANNs is that they can overlearn. Determining when to stop an ANN from learning is a problem that has not yet been fully solved.

Latent Class Models (Mixture Models)

Basically, latent class models (LCMs) enable the user to simultaneously optimize a research function and find clusters of cases within that framework. In general, the model may be applied to almost any dependency model – such as regression, logit and discriminant. 
Software is being rapidly developed to apply LCM to a variety of standard optimization models. 
The problem with defining market segments using any of the dependency methods, including LCM and CHAID, is that you are assuming the market is segmented based on optimizing the explained variance in a single dependent variable. This is seldom sufficient for strategic and many tactical market segmentation efforts. However, the methods can be very useful for better understanding market structures.

Fuzzy and Overlapping Clustering

Most clustering algorithms are programmed so that all cases are assigned to one and only one cluster. The basic idea in fuzzy (or overlapping) clustering is to allow a single case to be assigned to more than one cluster. Currently, there is no widely available software to handle this procedure, and there may be little need for it. 
Think about a situation where you ask respondents to complete a conjoint trade-off task about their beer selection preferences in different situations – such as at a business social function and at a bar with a group of friends.  
The conjoint attributes and levels are identical, but respondents' resulting profile preference ratings may be different based on the situation. If you derive importances for each attribute for each of those two occasions for the respondents, you will get two sets of derived importances for each respondent.  
There is no reason you cannot subject both sets of derived importances for these respondents to a standard clustering routine. The same respondent may then show up in two different clusters, depending on the results from his situational preferences.

Occasion-Based Segmentation

A particular challenge in market segmentation analysis is how to address segments when circumstances or occasions drive product preference and selection.  
For example, a researcher is measuring the relative influence of a set of brands, product attributes, and price variations for carbonated soft drinks purchased for immediate consumption in a variety of store settings: grocery, convenience, mass merchandise, deli, and drug store.  
Respondents do a point allocation of importance of each attribute, plus price and brand name, on influencing their selection for each store setting that they have experienced in the past ten days. In addition, respondents provide a demographic and consumption volume profile. 
The researcher could execute a clustering of the point allocation data for each type of shopping trip, thus deriving segments on the basis of the importance drivers for each store type, separately.  
Alternatively, the researcher could submit all of the point allocation data to a clustering algorithm and find clusters or segments in which the importance drivers are similar within each cluster and different between clusters, regardless of the occasion. The resulting clusters may or may not dif-ferentiate between store types.  
Either way, the researcher executed an occasion-based segmentation.

Speculations on the Future of Market Segmentation Research

It seems that the future for market segmentation research is rather rosy from the demand side. Market segmentation has taken on an increasingly important role in business strategy development. Thus, senior management is demanding more segmentation research as a critical input to the strategic planning process. 
Our ability to accumulate and manage massive amounts of data on customers and potential customers, aligned with the availability of many more targeted communications capabilities, ensure that there will be increasing demand for much more and much finer identifi-cation of target markets in most product and service categories. The massive use of the Internet only opens up greater possibilities for target marketing. 
There are a few downsides. The need for isolating and defining ever-smaller target markets will require ever-larger research sample sizes and a commensurate increase in the costs. Samples must be pristine and projectable to the larger population. For a while, this will preclude using the Internet as a respondent recruiting method for segmentation research. 
This same demand for finer targeting will force more researchers into the complexities of multidimensional and occasion-based segmentation These procedures require more time for analysis and reporting, improved methods for delivering and managing results, and the need for leveraging database reporting capabilities. 
The ANNs and LCMs will continue to supplant many traditional segmentation algorithms. These require increased methodological and statistical training for their effective use. 
The anticipated changes indicate that the implementation of a segmentation strategy will get much more complex for both marketers and researchers.


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Principles of Market Segmentation

5. Final Considerations


Market segmentation strategies sometimes fail for various reasons: 

  1. A lack of senior management involvement and recognition that market segmentation is a strategy. A strategy must permeate the firm and the way it deals with the marketplace;

    1. A lack of understanding of the concept of market segmentation and its need to identify groups that truly exhibit behavioral response differences to variations in the marketing mix;
    2. A presumption that all markets can be segmented on bases that are subject to influence by variations in the marketing mix.
    3. A researcher too concerned with methods and techniques instead of marketing capabilities and the practicalities of the marketplace;
    4. Not tailoring the research parameters to the concept of seg-mentation; and
    5. Selecting the "wrong" set of basis variables.

    Some instances in which segmentation research is not useful are: 

    1. The product category is a pure commodity without significant differentiation in product attributes or product/service bundles;
    2. The market is so small that marketing to a portion of it is not profitable;
    3. A relatively few heavy users make up such a very large por-tion of the sales volume that they are the only relevant target; and
    4. A single brand is the overwhelmingly dominant brand in the market, and therefore, all users are the relevant set.


    Market segmentation is a powerful and well-developed marketing tool. A properly segmented market can improve marketing, distribution, and manufacturing efficiency and generate additional profits and/or market share. 
    The basis selected for segmenting a market is key. The creative application of alternative bases for segmentation can often provide a strategic advantage to the innovative firm. 
    A strategy of market segmentation must be supported at the very top of the organization and must permeate the organization. 
    Market segmentation research, especially baseline segmentation research, must be carefully planned and executed, using the highest professional research standards. A mis-segmented market is often worse than making the mass-market assumption.


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