Guide | Segmentation made simple

How segmentation can inform your audience development plan with a step by step guide..

Segmentation is a useful technique to help organisations manage a range of relationships, and forms a cornerstone of a good audience development plan. It is worth taking some time and effort to get this right. This guidance will help you to do that, using Audience Finder insights as well as the companion article on meaningful mapping.

What is segmentation?

Segmentation is simply the process of dividing and organising the population into meaningful and manageable groups – or segments - so that you can tailor your cultural offer and communications to the preferences of each group.

We often talk about ‘our audience’ but in reality we have multiple audiences with different expectations, who come for different reasons and behave in different ways. We need to be able to identify and understand the significant differences before we can respond to them. Segmentation enables us to do this in a coherent way.

Why segment?

If you want to persuade someone to do something (like attending an event), the more you know about them, the better your chances of success. You can make sure, for example, that you tell them about something that interests them, or that you use their favoured means of communication, or even that you don’t put them off by telling them about something that they’re definitely not interested in.

The trouble is, not everyone is persuaded by the same things. Making assumptions about what all audiences/visitors want on the basis of what only SOME people do or say could limit the size and diversity of your audience. Segmentation helps make sense of these variations so that you can devise strategies to engage particular audiences based on the appropriate behaviours and characteristics which they share. It is in effect a recipe for reaching wider and different audiences, more often and more cost effectively.

So what does this mean for my organisation?

Segmentation needs to be workable for your organisation, based on things you can track and do something about. The level of detail at which you segment needs to be appropriate to the level and variety of programme you are able to offer your audiences. Broadly speaking, large organisations with complex offers, bigger budgets, audiences and staff will need more intricate segmentation. Smaller organisations will require simpler ones.

What makes a useful segment?

We all like to think of ourselves as individuals, but it is not manageable for any organisation to treat each individual audience member as a separate segment.

So part of the art of segmentation is to make judgements which are appropriate to your own situation. A useful segment checklist should be:

  • Relevant: identified by things that your organisation can respond to
  • Distinguishable: with characteristics demonstrably and measurably distinctive from other segments
  • Sizeable: of sufficient size to be worth the effort of targeting them
  • Locatable: once identified, you have a way of being able to communicate with them directly

Segmentation Criteria

There are lots of ways of segmenting an audience, and plenty of advice on doing so. The guidance here is simplified to make the most of the information available through the Audiences section. Essentially it is a process of grouping people based on a combination of shared characteristics in the following table:


  • This usually relates to how people have engaged with your organisation:
  • frequency of attendance
  • type of activity or content used
  • level of purchase
  • communication preferences
  • Age
  • Social grade
  • Life stage
  • Family circumstance
  • Place where people live
  • Place where people work
  • Personal interests and values
  • Lifestyle values and choices
  • Attitudes towards culture / your organisation

Getting the information you need

You can collect information to help this through audience surveys and booking/ticketing systems and from some external secondary sources. Audience Finder is designed to make the collection of such data easier.

A development of using booking data for distinguishing between segments on your database is to use geo-demographic profiling. This approach works by looking at what people are like, rather than, or alongside, how they behave as bookers. Two of the leading geo-demographic profiling tools you can use to help profile audiences are Mosaic and Acorn.

Both of these systems classify the entire population of the UK into different Groups and Types of people who share attributes based on key demographic variables and selected lifestyle characteristics. As both systems use postcodes to classify people, you can identify the Acorn or Mosaic profile for anyone on your database, or from survey data with a postcode. In this way you can learn which are the most and which are least represented people within your data. Once you know this you can then go about finding more like them, using this knowledge to help identify geographical areas for targeted audience development activity.

The Audience Agency's new segmentation system Audience Spectrum, which replaces Arts Council England's Arts Audiences Insight, can tell you more about the attitudes of groups of people in your catchment area with different levels and types of cultural engagement from those who are highly engaged through to ones that are least engaged. Whilst Culture Segments is MHM’s, sector-specific segmentation system for culture and heritage organisations. Their Audience Atlas system covers 60 art forms and leisure activities and up to 200 individual arts and heritage venues across the UK and is based on people’s cultural values and motivations.

A guide to building your segmentation

So there are lots of tools to help segmentation and most audience segments are created by layering up information in a way that is meaningful to each organisation and its audience development aims. Below is one approach:

Step 1: Start with audience behaviour

The starting point for any segmentation activity is knowledge on who it is you want to engage and why. For instance, a broad target audience such as families, might require further segmenting based on their demographics e.g. age of children, or motivations for participating etc. To make sure your segments are relevant, try grouping your audiences/visitors by their current behaviours. Can you identify a core segment of audiences by their frequency of attendance, and/or groups of people who have a preference for certain types of programme?

Insight: Family Audiences for Trips vs Treats

The Audience Agency’s research with families demonstrates that, by and large, cultural offerings fall into one of two categories for families. It is important to understand the difference between the motivations and perceived benefits of each. “Trips” are the kind of activity that parents and carers are seeking to fill up a weekend morning or a day during the holidays. Prices need to remain low – no more than £5 per head - activities need to be nearby and easy to get to and not difficult to organise, preferably at short notice once everyone has seen what the weather is like. Groups for trips often involve ‘split’ families, with one parent splitting off to take a group including friends and neighbours’ children to do something different to other family-members.

“Treats” on the other hand are outings carefully planned, well in advance to celebrate an occasion like a birthday. Within reason, the more expensive they are, the more special this means the occasion is likely to be: people will pay premium prices. Travelling longer distances than for a “trip” is acceptable and may even add to the excitement. The sense of risk is greatly increased – it is very important that everyone should enjoy these occasions, so the person planning them will tend to choose events with a reputation for their broad appeal and as many known-factors as possible – songs, faces, stories, formats, rituals, to lower the risk - pantomime is an obvious example. Recognition by children and their peers is of course a driver and families respond well to mass advertising, the more posters, PR and reviews they have seen, the safer they feel their choice to be.

Step 2: Identify and describe your external marketplace

Recognise and understand those people that exist in the wider market place and that are similar to your target audiences. Use insights and knowledge from secondary data sources such as National Office for Statistics (ONS) and the DCMS’s Taking Part (a continuous national survey about engagement and non-engagement in culture, leisure and sport), to understand more about who resides in your catchment area. Are there similarities or differences between who these key groups are, where they live, their motivations and behaviours, in relation to your audiences?

For example, the ONS website provides a facility to access a wealth of largely census-based information. A key section of the website is the Neighbourhood Statistics pages, which provides detailed information on the population characteristics of a defined area. This sort of information might prove useful for instance for an organisation wishing to implement a programme of outreach work in primary schools in the most deprived localities within its catchment area. Using the data from the site, it is possible to produce a map which identifies the most deprived areas (by their rank score according to indices of multiple deprivation) and the schools located within them.

Step 3: Plan, locate and target segments

Once you’ve selected your data sources, you need to start thinking about who and what it is that you want to combine and choose information that fits with your relevant strategic goals.

When you know who is on your database, you can then identify others in your locality who share similar interests, or look to see where potential may lie, i.e. those who are not currently engaging but could be.

For example, look at your existing audience data, (this could be in the form of an Area Profile Report) for the following indicators:

  • Are some postcode sectors under-represented? Is this because of the demographics of the people living in that area or could it be due to other factors, e.g. travel facilities, infrastructure etc.?
  • Are some postcode sectors over-represented? Is this because of the demographics of the people living in that area or could it be due to other factors, e.g. on-going audience development activities by other organisations etc.?
  • Think about your market penetration not just in terms of numbers of attenders - you may have a small number of people attending from a particular target group, but as it is a small group locally your market penetration could be considered high.

By using segmentation tools such as Mosaic or Acorn to profile your database, you can analyse and describe the segment profile of customer neighbourhoods based on your postcode data. You’ll then be able to see which Groups and Types make up your audience; it will almost certainly be the case that some of these will be much better represented than others. These ‘dominant groups’ may be said to represent your ‘core’ audience. If more people like them live in your catchment area, they may be likely to display a propensity to attend events at your organisation (i.e. there may be more like-minded people in your locality who are predisposed to attending your events but not currently doing so). By looking at your audiences in this way, you can use these profiles alongside your Area Profile Report to try and identify where more people of the same kind live.

Compare your segment targets against the segmentation checklist to see if your group meets the criteria defined for what makes a useful segment. You can then use this information to help plan an informed and targeted campaign to develop potential audiences.

Step 4: Make it SMART, define measures of success

For each of your target audience segments you can set a SMART objective. For example: Implement a test drive campaign to target South Asian families within a 5 mile radius of your organisation for a 2015 summer Mela event. Use the information you have gathered about each segment to make realistic assumptions when setting numeric targets. Identify how many you aim to attract, and ensure such targets are consistent with your strategy, for instance you may set lower targets for new audiences compared to existing audiences.

Step 5: Build segments into your audience development plan

Use this information within your audience development plan to help identify how you will achieve goals based on reaching and developing new and/or existing audiences. Use your knowledge and understanding of the catchment area and segment profiles as the basis for devising marketing activities. You can then target audience segments with tailored communications for events based on their previous engagement behaviour, attitudes and/or propensity to attend. On the other hand, it may be the case that some of the less well represented segments could form new target audiences for your organisation to reach with new cultural offers and messages e.g. outreach, access and inclusion work.

You should consider the type of cultural offer and promotional messaging that is most appropriate, based on the behaviours of what a particular segment is likely to respond to. For example, do they need to be won over with discounted offers to more traditional events, or are they more likely to be influenced with exclusive premium priced packages to contemporary cutting edge events? Communications can then be planned based on knowledge of where they live, e.g. door to door leaflet distribution, local newspaper advertising, buy-in to customised mailing lists, or even to help you decide on the tone and image of the messaging.


When put into practice, segmentation can be used as both a basis for a deeper understanding of organisations audiences and as a tool to attract new ones. You may need to use bits of your data at different times to inform your segmentation strategy to help achieve specific audience development objectives. This will also require constant topping up of the information you have about audiences in order to build upon that knowledge over time.

To help you understand segmentation and its use in effective audience development, the Audiences section brings our Audience Spectrum segments to life with a mix of visual, descriptive and statistical information, backed up by more detailed information here.