As you sit in the parking lot and look at the other cars, the car in front of you catches your attention. It is a Chrysler convertible with a tennis racket tucked into the space above the back seat. Parked next to this car is a Honda Civic with a car seat strapped at the back and a packet of Kleenex tissues kept in front. A maze of other cars are parked all around and you look at them carefully, noticing each model and whatever other markers of identity that you can see outside or inside each car. Bumper stickers, seat covers, steering wheel covers and the pendants hanging from the rear-view mirror each have a story to tell about the owner’s identity.
What is Market Segmentation?
Market segmentation is based on this notion of identity. It divides your market into various sections based on markers such as age, income, interests and buying habits. The most well-known market segmentation technology is the PRIZM geo-demographic segmentation technology that divides the market according to life stage, income and residential location. Life stage is measured according to factors such as age, marital status and number of children at home. Income level is measured on a high to low continuum. Residential location is placed on an urban to rural continuum and marked accordingly. In combination, these measures create the 66 market segments outlined by the PRIZM technology.
Many of us are not aware that we belong to a market segment. We do not regularly consider fitting our lives into a segmentation system, based on where we live, how we live and what we buy. It may not occur to us that we unknowingly fit into a segmentation grid that makes us belong to the target audience for certain types of products and marketing communications messages. When I first realized this about myself, I also understood that my consumption habits fall into a certain pattern that is not accidental. Rather, they are driven by deep rooted motivations that represent my demographic, behavioral and psychographic profile.
To put it simply–I consume in the way that I do because of who I am.
Market Segmentation and Brand Narratives
There are anomalies to this logic, for sure. Yet, it works more often than it does not, as you will surely realize if you observe your own purchase patterns and try to ask yourself why you shop at Store A and not Store B and why you drink brand A coffee instead brand B coffee. Observe the advertisements of your favorite brands as well. You will be surprised when, reflected in those advertisements, you discover aspects of yourself that you had not noticed before.
It is common knowledge that a brand lends an identity to a product. We recognize our brands based on these identities. Some we like, others we don’t, and many identities become our aspirations rather than our reality. As many marketing gurus will also tell you, a brand presents a narrative that helps us create or recreate drama in our lives. I would argue that brands do well when they create narratives which stay with us. This could be because they give us hope (for example: wear this shoe and you will impress the right girl at the right time) or instigate our ambitions (for example: this large car and that beautiful house is what you really want) or replay moments that seem like they are drawn from our own lives (for example: buying baby food for the first time after your daughter was born).
As a narrative, a brand also attempts to solve the challenges, clarify the contradictions and diminish the disappointments of our daily lives. Chocolates, for example, have often been the boredom breaker and deodorant brands have often used an empowerment narrative that inspires the user to perform better. The use of a celebrity makes this narrative even more powerful. Finally, luxury brands thrive on creating a moment of ecstasy that breaks the monotony of mundane lives.
More importantly, as a narrative a brand is larger than simply a physical entity or an experience. In a sense, the physical entity and experience gets subdued by the larger presence of a story that captures the hearts and minds of the consumer. As a narrative, a brand tends to be successful when the story fits the characteristics of the brand. An ugly and mechanical watch will, thus, struggle to become a story of romance although it is possible to create one. A fast and trendy car can hardly become a story of a laid back and retired life.
Brand narratives must be planned carefully, so that the story attracts the consumer being targeted and it highlights the product features that really matter.
Brand Narratives and Race – Canada as an Example
In a multicultural world, where many markets are segmented according to race, brand narratives have the added responsibility of targeting racial groups. While the storyline can depict race, this is a more difficult strategy to execute than simply using characters that are black, white or brown, whatever the case may be. Mostly, however, these strategies go hand in hand. Racially coded characters are used along with narratives that depict a black, white or brown person’s life.
Canada is a fitting example of a country where a fresh racial market has been created, due to the arrival of a new generation of immigrants commonly referred to as the New Canadian (as they are called due to the relatively recent arrival). They are the primary representatives of the non-European (mainly Asian, African and South/Central American) and Eastern European sections of Canada. The New Canadians have created an imagery of Canadian-ness that is quite different from the vision of a more western European Canada. Those selling products and services to these folks ought to take stock of this new imagery. This will help, for example, to develop brand loyalty through visual cues used in brand narratives.
I refer to this imagery as the semiotics of the New Canadian. This concept can be better understood when broken down into a few key elements.
Attire – One of the main differentiators of the imagery associated with New Canadians is their traditional clothing. Although quick at adopting a Canadian dress code, New Canadians slip back to traditional clothing during special occasions, like religious festivals, and while congregating with their ethnic community over the weekend. Since these events are closely linked to their identities, the imagery of traditional clothing is a marked element of the semiotics of the New Canadian.
Home Decoration – People tend to reveal their true identities within their homes and New Canadians are no different. One of the ways New Canadians represent themselves at home is through the items they use for decoration. The cushion covers on the living room couch, for example, may have been bought by a relative who sent it from Chandigarh or Manila. These could carry the look of another time and place that is remarkably different from Canadian styles of home decoration. The aesthetics of home decoration is, thus, an essential element of the semiotics of the New Canadian.
Food – In this era, food is as much about sight as it is about smell and taste. The appearance of food differs across cuisines. Indian food, for example, has a strong association with the reddish yellow curry (sauce) used in many dishes. The cuisines of the New Canadians each have their own imagery. Once again, due to the strong bond between food and identity this imagery is a marked element of the semiotics of the New Canadian.
Architecture – While Canadian architecture is similar across the country, certain structures carry an ethnic flavor that makes them stand out. Places of worship, such as mosques and temples, are the most prominent in this category. Many of these religious sites are frequented by New Canadians and they might even have been involved in planning the construction of these structures. So, such architectural styles are another essential element of the semiotics of the New Canadian.
As mentioned earlier, for effective targeting the narrative of the brand would have to match the semiotics of the New Canadians. The narrative should draw elements from the lives of these New Canadians. Even within the New Canadians, moreover, there are various segments of consumers. The overall branding strategy ought to reflect this market segmentation by incorporating the features that differentiate these segments.
Photo by Andrew Haimerl on Unsplash
Guest Author Bio
Rohit Chattopadhyay is the founder of Culture Cushion™ Consulting, a firm that helps professionals develop communication and management skills to succeed internationally. He has a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Rohit has conducted independent research on cultural identity issues, apart from working as a marketing research and marketing professional in Canada, India and USA. If you want to schedule a training session or workshop, please send an email to Rohit@culturecushion.com.
Website: Culture Cushion™ Consulting