Commentary

Experiential Segmentation: Allowing Boomers To Personally Define Value

Greater individuation brought into the marketplace by Baby Boomers lessens the usefulness of traditional customer segmentation for reasons of simple economics. The greater the degree of individuation (the older we get, the less alike we become), the smaller the sub-groups; the smaller the sub-groups, the less cost-effective it is to tailor marketing programs to such groups. 

However, there is a ray of sunlight. A way to think about segmentation is experiential segmentation. Experiential segmentation is a cornerstone of conditional positioning. The approach allows each Baby Boomer to interpret your message as potentially meeting their personal needs. The most successful applications of this prompt people to select themselves into your portfolio of viable product prospects by letting their imaginations flow toward your product like a cartoon character’s nose pulls him through a scent stream to the source of the alluring aroma.

In experiential segmentation, products and services are positioned according to the experiences they can lead to, rather than by their features, performance attributes and functional benefits. For example, a house for sale can be positioned in terms of well-designed quality features – or it can be positioned as a place of comfort supporting family bonding, a place for a wonderful family life and joyful times and experiences of a wide range.

The primary hypothesis underlying experiential segmentation is, people buy experience opportunities more than they buy products and that experiential desires fall into two broad categories:

  • Positive experiential desires: desires to feel comfort and pleasure.
  • Negative experiential desires: desires to avoid feeling discomfort and pain.

Hence, products (and services) are media for having good feelings or avoiding bad feelings.

The aim of experiential segmentation is to generate multiple perceptions of the experiences that a product may lead to by stimulating customers’ minds into defining the product in terms of its experiential value to them. Traditionally, it has been held that the marketer positions the product. Marketing executions based on experiential segmentation invite the customer to position the product as one that meets their personal needs or desires. 

An example is Anthropologie. Anthropologie seeks to jump start shoppers’ creative juices to define what they see in an Anthropologie store in highly personal and creative terms. When they do so, they are selling themselves. Anthropologie does this by stimulating all of the senses. Moreover, the company is not afraid to go against retail tradition. 

For example, many retailers employ manipulative practices with the objective of controlling customers. Often, retailers plan the pathways they want customers to take through their spaces. The idea is to maximize incidence of whimsical purchases. It’s about controlling the customer who responds by mounting emotionally fortified defenses.

Anthropologie follows a right-brain way: sensuous, scintillating and evocative. The customer defines the experience. No customer relationship management thinking at Anthropologie. The customer manages the relationship. Anthropologie is just an experiential catalyst creating a context. 

Let customers, not marketers, define your product 

Older minds are less receptive to copywriters telling them what a brand means. They want to decide for themselves. Experiential segmentation or conditional positioning lets people fix a brand in their minds subjectively in ways that can vary more from customer to customer. 

Absolute positioning is about the product. For example, remember BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine”? Absolute positioning strives for an objective image of the product on a mass-market basis, that is, an image everyone recognizes the same way and admires. Absolute positioning is a left-brain orientation and was well suited to the younger age groups who dominated the marketplace. 

Experiential segmentation is about the customer. For example, Apple computer’s "Think different" was an advertising slogan for Apple, Inc. in 1997 created by the Los Angeles office of advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day. It was about the customer, not the product, and was right brain-oriented because it allowed customers’ creative participation in the brand definition process. Experiential segmentation is critical to successful message executions. Because it encourages subjective perceptions of a brand that can differ from one person to the next, brands that are positioned conditionally can cross-generational divides.

3 comments about "Experiential Segmentation: Allowing Boomers To Personally Define Value".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, April 4, 2016 at 12:05 p.m.

    Jim:  While I agree with many of your points, there are a few lingering questions.  Don't you run some risks if the positioning is too broad or abstract?   Would you consider Home Depot's "let's do it" a good example of experiential?  When it comes to the research fielded to develop such approaches, what are the prime data sources?  Thanks.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 4, 2016 at 8:43 p.m.

    Anthropologie for boomers ? The home design yes but their clothes do not fit most of the 50+ bodies as women's bodies change form as they age so form fitting takes a different meaning. Try again. 

  3. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, April 6, 2016 at 2:46 p.m.

    Paula,


    Thanks for your comment. However, I wasn't recommending Anthropologie as a retailer for Boomer women. I was using their approach as an example of a retailer that lets the customer define the experience rather than try to manipulate them through the shopping experience. 

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