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Pharma Marketers’ Blog: Segmentation – Are We Missing the Mark?

Authored by Maxine Smith, Managing Director, Uptake for the PME Pharma Marketers’ Blog.

Within this article, Maxine poses the question, ‘Why should we be using segmentation, and what should we be looking for to know that we are getting it right?’

Maxine highlights that to deliver effective omnichannel campaigns, we need to segment our customers to be able to create seamless, tailor-made customer journeys and to sequence the communication in the right way for their needs and desires.

Read below or click to access the published version

Why we should be using segmentation and what we should be looking for to know that we are getting it right

Put your hands up if you have been in a meeting in the last 18 months where the term ‘segmentation’ was used repeatedly. Leave your hand up if you think secretly the word ‘segmentation’ is overused and poorly defined. My hand is still up, and I suspect many of yours are too.

A dive into my trusty English dictionary confirms that the definition of ‘segmentation’ is ‘division into separate parts or sections’. This brings to mind clementine or satsuma segments, the ones that are easy to separate, and each segment is distinct from the next. I think the segments that we in the pharma industry are working with are more like large navel orange segments which are often stuck together, hard to separate and can’t be eaten without getting juice all over your fingers!

So why should we be using segmentation and what should we be looking for to know that we are getting it right?

Segmentation essentially means that we look across our customer universe (both existing and potential customers) and try to group them into subgroups according to shared characteristics. How we define these characteristics is where it gets interesting because we need to look for the customers who could benefit most from our product or, in the case of healthcare customers, those who have similar clinical needs for their patients. Once we have identified these segments, we can decide how best to relate to these customers and meet their needs to maximise the value of each customer.

Why should we bother, what should we expect to gain from carrying out this rigorous analysis of our customers? Malcolm McDonald (Cranfield University School of Management) has written extensively about segmentation and shares this rather stark warning: ‘[…] any organisation that embarks on any segmentation path other than needs-based segmentation is doomed to waste an awful lot of time and money.’ If we can effectively segment, we can:

  • Make our tactics more effective and relevant while improving the interactions and experience our customers have with our company and brand
  • Help stretch our budgets further because we won’t be communicating with the wrong customers
  • Increase customer retention because they are getting what they need and expect from our segment specific engagement plan
  • Differentiate our brands by enabling the right customers to appreciate the true value of their clinical impact.

The next thing to consider is how we segment. In my mind there are rational and emotional types of segmentation.

‘Rational’ segmentation is more straightforward, as we can easily identify groups without having to dig too deep, but we will learn nothing about the personality characteristics and beliefs of the customers, their desires, motivations and choices, and therefore we are likely to fall victim to Professor McDonald’s warning about wasting an awful lot of time and money.

Going back to the hand-raising question at the start, segmentation is the 2021 buzzword because to build omnichannel campaigns requires a level of focus on segmentation we have never seen before. To deliver effective omnichannel campaigns we need to segment our customers to be able to create seamless, tailor-made customer journeys, to sequence the communication in the right way for their needs and desires. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Know why you are segmenting – what is the goal of segmentation, what outcomes are you looking for?
  • Try different segmentation models – which are the most appropriate for your goal? There is no right or wrong answer, in some cases geographic segmentation or channel use segmentation may absolutely be the most pragmatic approach to get started, and other segmentation can be overlayed when the information is available.
  • Make segmentation a cross-functional team affair – there is no point in one part of the company executing campaigns (omnichannel or otherwise) using segmentation and other teams using the same communication with every customer.
  • Measure, analyse and iterate – without frequent assessment we cannot know if we are connecting with each customer segment, we cannot improve and we cannot drive greater uptake of our brands.

Segmentation will be messy when we start (think large oranges and all the juice!) but with persistency, practise and iteration we can progress to well-defined and valuable customer segments.


Demographic = ‘Who’ (eg, age, gender, job or role, level of education)

Geographic = ‘Where’ (eg, country, region, hospital)


Psychographic = ‘Why’ (eg, personalities, interests, beliefs, personal goals)

Behavioural = ‘How’ (eg, brand loyalty, previous experience of the brand, prescribing habits)

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