"The use of segmentation to identify specific groups of people has become a well-known tactic of many commercial marketers. In their efforts to sell more products to consumers, these commercial marketers may also be increasing behaviors that pose a risk to individuals’ health. Evidence for this effect has been found for food and beverage marketing to the African American population (Grier & Kumanyika, 2008); for the alcohol industry’s marketing to young people (Hastings, Anderson, Cooke & Ross, 2005; Jackson, Hastings, Wheeler, Eadie & MacKintosh, 2002); and for tobacco marketing in low- and middle-income countries, which has been linked with observed increases in smoking prevalence in these countries (Glynn, Seffrin, Brawley, Grey & Ross, 2010). That corporate marketers use segmentation and targeting to increase risky behaviors - and thus the morbidities and mortality associated with these behaviors - is not an argument against the use of segmentation by social marketers and social change agents in their programs. If anything, corporate use of marketing makes it all the more important for social marketers to harness marketing to counter negative effects in these nations and communities and to apply critical marketing to expose and reduce corporate marketing practices (Hastings, 2012).
Hornik and Ramirez (2006) examined the use of segmentation to address racial and ethnic disparities. They noted that many large-scale projects build racial or ethnic segmentation into their efforts by developing specific program components aimed at groups such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics (or Latinos), or Native Americans (cf. Institute of Medicine, 2002). They concluded that segmentation might have a number of implications for program strategy:
- Different behavior change objectives might be established for different groups.
- Different branding and positioning strategies might be used to reflect and appeal to cultural differences and values.
- Different messages (and, I would add, products and services) might be selected and focused on to facilitate behavior adoption or discontinuance.
- Different channels of message, product, and service distribution and access might be employed.
- Different types of promotions might be used to reflect or appeal to cultural or linguistics characteristics of each group.
Note that the purpose of segmentation is not to answer the question of whether we can distinguish different subgroups of a larger population. The question for segmentation is whether identifying differences among groups will drive how we approach our marketing solution. That is, does it make sense to have different behaviors, messages, products, and services aimed at specific subgroups of people? Or are there certain common characteristics that supersede these distinctions? And just as important, if we do uncover such differences, do we have the resources to develop the specific marketing mixes each group deserves?
Hornik and Ramirez (2006) point out that we also need to consider untoward consequences of segmentation. Might we be stigmatizing a group in the eyes of the general public if we explicitly focus on that group? Are the observed inequalities in health status or in the choices people make based on social determinants that are beyond their individual control; that is, are we setting them up for failure if we only encourage them to change their behavior? Will we dilute the scarce resources we have for our program by trying to be all things to all people - even if we are doing it serially by addressing a few groups at a time - and thus not have much reach for or impact on any group? Do we really want to divide up the population for our program if we are seeking broader social changes, such as changing norms that affect binge drinking or home energy use? Of course a simple yes or no response to such questions should not immediately preclude a segmentation approach. Nor is it suggested that all social marketing programs must segment in order to be effective in achieving social goals. Rather, a deliberate and thoughtful process of considering the potential role of segmentation in each program is proposed...
Hornik and Ramirez (2006) also highlight how the segmentation decisions we make can have implications for the design and conduct of outcome evaluations. These evaluations need to focus on answering the question, did the segmentation approach lead to comparatively greater changes in the segmented groups than in comparison ones? Hornik and Ramirez go on to note that they could not identify a single instance where racial or ethnic segmentation approaches were compared to nonsegmented approaches. Thus even though segmentation is held out as a hallmark of social marketing (and health communication) campaigns, there is no evidence that it results in superior outcomes (nor is there any research to suggest that it is less effective than other approaches). However, rather than accept this dismal conclusion, we need for social marketing research to begin to address this research question. And in our practice we need to subscribe to the idea that at the center of every program should be people, and the better defined and understood they are, the more relevant and effective our strategy and tactics will be for them."
From: Lefebvre, R.C (in press). Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being and the environment (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, expected 2013).
Glynn, T., Seffrin, J. R., Brawley, O. W., Grey, N., & Ross, H. (2010). The globalization of tobacco use: 21 challenges for the 21st century. CA: A cancer journal for clinicans; 60:50–61.
Grier, S. A., & Kumanyika, S. K. (2008). The context for choice: Health implications of targeted food and beverage marketing to African Americans. American Journal of Public Health; 98:1616–1629.
Hastings, G. (2012). The marketing matrix: How the corporation gets its power – and how we can reclaim it. New York: Routledge.
Hastings, G., Anderson, S., Cooke, E., & Ross, G. (2005). Alcohol marketing and young people’s drinking: A review of the research. Journal of Public Health Policy; 26:296–311.
Hornik, R. C., & Ramirez, A. S. (2006). Racial/ethnic disparities and segmentation in communication campaigns. American Behavioral Scientist; 49:868–884.
Institute of Medicine, Committee on Communication for Behavior Change in the 21st Century: Improving the Health of Diverse Populations. (2002). Speaking of health: Assessing health communication strategies for diverse populations. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Jackson, M. C., Hastings, G., Wheeler, C., Eadie, D., & MacKintosh, A. M. (2002). Marketing alcohol to young people: Implications for industry regulation and research policy. Addiction; 95:597–608.