Oprah's Lesson on Segmentation

Posted on September 1, 2013

Last week Oprah Winfrey was in a handbag shop.  She asked to see a particular item and the assistant made an assumption.  After giving the bag’s expensive price-tag, she suggested Oprah might like to view less costly bags.

Whatever else can be drawn from this situation, one thing is certain.  The assistant (not recognising the famous face) made a subjective decision about the shopper’s ability to pay based solely on outward appearances.

Cultural segmentation is the biggest challenge in multicultural marketing.  Communication success rests on degree of engagement, so messages tailored to fit cultural groupings are much more effective.  That makes it essential to strike a delicate balance.  One that groups individuals appropriately yet avoids the sweeping generalisations that leave communication ringing hollow.

The decision-making dilemma

Marketing that shares the language and customs of its audience can target more successfully and help build long-term relationships.  But to do so, organisations must have a good understanding of the cultural groupings that make up the audience.

Scant evidence and lack of detail are the main flaws in the methodology businesses use to perform cultural classification.  The individual approach may vary in sophistication from:

  • Lumping people together in generalised baskets labelled ‘Asian’ or ‘European’, to
  • Extracting, modelling and interpreting Census information to proportion a database.

Common weaknesses leave organisations relying on subjective decisions to resolve the grouping to which an individual belongs.  Just like Oprah’s sales assistant, that means some very human assumptions enter the fray.

Other cultural considerations

Relying on cultural information from sources such as Census data also has its drawbacks.

For example:
A person born in Australia may respond “Australian” to the question of Ancestry.  However, that individual may also closely relate to the cultural heritage of migrant parents.  Or even grandparents.

Other challenges confronting large scale data collection may also affect the quality and reliability of cultural heritage information.  These include:

  • Survey Response Rates – culturally diverse groups typically  show lower response rates ;
  • Omissions – many are uncomfortable disclosing information about cultural background;
  • Geography – location, accessibility and distance can all lead to inaccuracy.

A Better Classification Approach

While no segmentation method is completely foolproof, there is a more accurate approach to identifying cultural heritage.

Name analysis draws on scholarly research into billions of names.  The cultural origin of first names and family names has been closely studied to provide most likely heritage indicators.

By analysing an individual’s given and family names separately, a highly reliable indication of cultural origin can be achieved.  Because this approach takes into account traditions like naming an infant after a grandparent, it also provides some insight into an individual’s extent of cultural engagement.

Once a database has been thoroughly analysed and grouped, findings may also be overlayed with location information.  This provides further evidence of cultural engagement.

For example:
One individual’s name may be found to have a strong Greek cultural origin.  Where that person also lives in a location more densely populated with Greek migrants, there is an even stronger indication of ethnic grouping.

Name analysis is the foundation step in the OriginsInfo cultural segmentation method.  Empowering organisations to precisely complete this process, allows for development of marketing and other communication that is not only well targeted but culturally-aware also.

What might Oprah think about that?

Back to blog