Today’s consumers are more educated and data-savvy than ever. In our recent 7,000-person consumer study, we found that 74 percent of respondents expect companies to treat them as individuals, not just part of a segment like “millennials” or “suburban mothers.” The marketing industry is getting the message. Today, close to 62 percent of marketing professionals agree that “improving audience segmentation” is a top priority.

Yet, audience segmentation is easier to get wrong than right. With an unprecedented amount of customer data to choose from, many brands are struggling to give customers what they want: real, human communication - and to do so at scale.

Fortunately, technical advancements like Selligent Marketing Cloud’s AI-powered Smart Audiences segmentation can help unlock new levels of personalized marketing interactions. Here’s what brands need to do to make your audience segmentation strategy more human:

1. Build a solid data foundation

Look at segmentation as the art of thinking in groups. When it comes to defining these groups, you’ll need all the data you can get to paint a vivid picture. The more data points you capture in your consumer profiles, the more detailed and targeted your segments will become – especially if you enlist help from AI in the process (see below).

Demographic data like age, gender, and residence are a must, while socioeconomic data including occupation, level of education, and household income add complexity. But these are relatively static categories, so make sure you’re also capturing contextual data from customer behavior - like website searches, most recent purchases, store visits, and social media interactions for a more dynamic consumer view.

2. Tap into third-party data

Nothing beats your own first-party data in terms of relevance and controlled access. But only looking at your own, internal data can’t paint you the full picture of your customer’s journey. What about the volume of purchases a customer makes with your company, versus the volume of purchases they make with your competitors?

A parent who makes five big purchases in kids’ clothing might rightfully be considered a highly loyal and engaged customer to a clothing brand. But what if third-party data were to tell you that the same parent typically makes twice as many purchases from a direct competitor?

Armed with this kind of information – in this case, known as ‘share of wallet’ – marketers can come to differentiate when an existing customer holds untapped buying potential and lifetime value. Instead of grouping the customer as highly loyal and engaged, perhaps marketers should have approached them with a smart cross-selling strategy instead to increase purchase volume.

To enhance consumer profiles with these puzzle pieces, make sure your marketing automation platform supports seamless third-party data integration via an open architecture.

3. Rethink relevant attributes

Your marketing segmentation will become more human when you know exactly who you’re talking to. Basic demographic attributes like location, age, and gender are the most common segmentation strategies and are used by 71 percent of senior marketers in North America. But, depending on your products and services, there may be overlooked attributes that could actually be the key to building powerful segments that deliver strong results.

Pro tip: Think about your desired outcomes

When segmenting your audience for targeted communications, keep a big picture perspective so your decisions are well informed by the entire customer journey. In a highly successful campaign, Selligent client and German car manufacturer Audi distilled a large pool of interested car buyers into a strong core of high-potential prospects by tracking behavioral data in real time. As the campaign progressed, these high potentials were targeted based on the stage of the customer journey they were in with offers like exclusive direct mail invites and in-store events. The result? Outstanding in-store attendance and increased conversion rates.

4. Enlist help from artificial intelligence (AI)

Sooner or later, every marketer reaches a limit on the number of audience segments they can define manually. The good news is that marketing-specific AI engines are getting better than ever at identifying high-potential consumers while taking into account behavioral data. They’ll update in real time in customer data platforms (CDPs), and can help marketers access new and previously unexplored consumer groups.

As the latest capability of our AI engine Selligent Cortex, Smart Audiences is designed for the needs of relationship marketers and built to assemble the most relevant audience for any given marketing content or sales offer. Drawing on rich consumer profiles and real-time behavioral data, Smart Audiences automatically finds the right individuals to message within a specific customer journey. This way, you can avoid over-messaging non-interested consumers while making sure interested ones receive highly personalized, humanized communications.

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