The 2012 presidential election provides an excellent demonstration of the different types of market segmentation. We’ve all seen news anchors and pundits analyzing an election and discussing types of voters. We’ve also seen presidential campaigns – in many different elections – identify groups of potential voters, and then target messaging and communication to those groups.
The election is similar to business because candidates must compete for voters in many of the same ways that marketers compete for customers. In fact, I believe that business has a lot to learn from the ways that election campaigns have used market segmentation and database-driven, targeted marketing to attract segments of interest.
Let’s look at some types of market segmentation that matter in presidential politics.
Demographic Segmentation in the Presidential Election
Demographic segmentation is conducted using demographic variables. In market segmentation, this often means variables such as age, income, or gender. Some of the key types of demographic segmentation in the 2012 presidential election include the following:
- Geographic Segmentation: Geographic segmentation focuses on specific regions. For example, one of the easiest ways to analyze an election is to look at how voters in each state plan to vote. How many times have you heard the term “swing states”, particularly in reference to states such as Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, and Wisconsin? There are, of course, plenty of ways to analyze geography. We could talk about red states versus blue states, urban versus rural voters, and other geographic differences.
- Age-Based Segmentation: Age-based segmentation focuses on customers or voters of a particular age. For example, young voters generally favored Barack Obama in 2008, and many wonder whether they will vote Democratic in 2012. On the other hand, older voters appear to favor Mitt Romney in 2012.
- Segmentation based on Ethnicity or Culture: Demographic segmentation may also be based on race, ethnicity, or culture. One example, a recent poll shows that Hispanics may favor Obama in this election. In an overlap with another demographic segment, support among Hispanics is particularly important in swing states with large Hispanic populations, such as Florida and Colorado.
Behavioral Segmentation in the Presidential Election
Behavioral segmentation relies on consumer behavior to segment and analyze markets. For example, marketers might use behavioral segmentation to target consumers who eat a particular type of food, drive a particular type of car, or go to movie theatres more or less often.
Behavioral segmentation has also been frequently seen in analysis of presidential elections. Here are a few examples:
- Segmentation based on political party: The easiest of any segmentation may be based on party affiliation. Some voters tend to vote Republican, while others tend to vote Democratic. Some people may argue that this segmentation is really based on attitude rather than party, but if a segmentation is based on how people vote, it is a behavior. (See the next section for segmentations based on what people believe.)
- Segmentation based on voting habits: Segmentation can also be based on a variety of different types of voting habits. For example, Gallup conducts a survey of likely voters, while other polling organizations survey the overall population of the United States.
- Segmentation based on membership: Segmentation can also be based on membership or affiliation, such as veterans groups or the AARP.
Attitudinal Segmentation and the Presidential Election
A third type of segmentation is based on attitudes, which refers to beliefs, feelings and needs. For marketers, attitudinal segmentation may be based on consumer attitudes towards products, brands, or even a product category or type of service.
For politicians and pundits, attitudinal segmentation can be conducted along a wide range of issues. Here are some examples:
- Undecided Voters: How many times have we heard about both candidates trying to position their messaging for undecided voters?
- Single-Issue Voters: We’ve often heard about hot-button issues in this election, and how they motivate voters, such as voters who are in favor of or opposed to abortion rights, voters who are against any taxation or in favor of certain types of taxes, or voters who are in favor of more energy production or more energy conservation.
- Segmentation based on religious attitudes: Segmentation can also be based on religious affiliation, such as appeals to Evangelical Christians, or to observant Jewish voters. How many times in the 2012 presidential election have we heard about the candidate’s attitudes towards Israel and Iran?
Which Type of Market Segmentation Should You Use?
As I have shown in this post, presidential politics provides vivid examples of different types of market segmentation. The table below summarizes some of the differences between demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal segmentation:
As you can see above, demographic segmentation is easiest to explain, and easiest to target actions based on the segmentation. For example, it is easy to target voters who live in a particular state. However, demographic segmentation tends to be less powerful than other methods of market segmentation. Just because two voters or two consumers live in the same state does not mean they share beliefs or are moved by the same type of messaging.
By contrast, behavioral segmentation can tap into factors that really matter to candidates or marketers, such as who votes or who buys certain products or who consumes the most in a particular category. However, behaviors can change over time, even among a specific demographic group. Also, behaviors tell what is happening but they do not explain why.
The last type of market segmentation is attitudinal. This type of segmentation is powerful, because it identifies needs, beliefs and hopes. However, it can be more difficult to explain and more difficult to act upon. To take our example from presidential campaigns, it is easier to locate and target a group of voters in a specific state than to locate and target a group such as undecided voters, who perhaps are spread across many states.
Which variable should you use? It depends on what data you have available and who is going to use your market segmentation. As you can see from this post, political campaigns and analysts use all three. In many cases, market segmentation ends up using more than one type of variable and the most sophisticated segmentations often rely upon all three types of variables.
No matter which way this election comes out, it provides lessons for your next market segmentation study.
Dr. Bruce Isaacson
MMR Strategy Group