Segmenting – how you should do it

Gary Allan - Smoke Rings in the Dark
Gary Allan – Smoke Rings in the Dark

Segmenting is about splitting all the people who subscribe to you into groups where you can (supposedly) provide content better tailored to the person you are talking to. There is a big move on the internet for this to be happening. Websites are being replaced with sites that show different things based on who is visiting. Sites are selling the lifestyle instead of the product. Bear with me as I explain and then look at if or how we should use this as musicians. Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Kill Em All

Traditionally if you made a marketing piece you made it so anyone & everyone could read it. You trusted that the person reading could, and would, separate themselves in or out based on their needs. If it was an advert for funerals, most people would notice but ignore as they weren’t experiencing dead relatives right now. The brain would file Frankenstein’s Funeral Furnace and move on. If a relative popped off then maybe old Frankie would be remembered and chosen. When a K-Mart sale catalog came in the mail it would either be tossed straight out or you would look at the bits that interested you. If you were a man you skipped ladies wear (well some of it) and looked at technology.

Adam And The Ants - Prince Charming
Adam And The Ants – Prince Charming

This is the all birds with one stone approach. With the advent of computers, it started to be easier to split people on your list into segments. You could put all the people who bought ladies shoes on one list and the people who bought men’s shoes on another and send stuff based on that. In theory that meant that more people would read your piece as it was more relevant. Sounds good.

Now that the internet is on computers you can have a huge amount of segmenting going on. It is based on things that you do. Every site you visit pops another flag on your master file. I go to a web designer’s site and suddenly wherever Google Ads are served I am being shown their advert.

An increasing number of sites are even serving me completely different pages from the ones you see, based on my prior choices. Seems clever too as the web is a crazy busy place so they need to cut through.

I Ain’t The One

Well, maybe it is all not so clever. When a company chooses what I see, it is taking away a bit of my dignity. The company is telling me they know what is good for me. I feel this and it hurts. I may choose to ignore it is but it is still a fact that I’m being told I’m not allowed to make all my own choices about what I see. I feel that and it doesn’t make me like those companies.

The Angels - Take It To The Streets
The Angels – Take It To The Streets

If I subscribed to a music store and they ask me my three favorite types of music I would probably tick: Rock, Country & Electronic. What happens is they start sending me stuff about Muse, Keith Urban & Skrillex. Big fail as I don’t care for any of these acts at all. I bet they never send me anything about Boston, Gary Allan or Tangerine Dream. That makes sending me segmented stuff a bad idea as it puts me off the whole store. Matter of fact they put me off buying music altogether as they take the passion out of music for me.

I want to make my own decisions.

When I walk into a physical record store I am greeted with promo for popular acts but it doesn’t bother me as I simply walk past them to the places I am more likely to find something I do want.

Now you may say that I could just step past the front page on the website too. Yes, but on a website, if all I see is Keith & Lady Gargle then I can’t see the hope of a best of Velvet Underground (preferably with “The Gift”) or the new Garth Brooks record. Web is one pixel deep but a physical store is many meters deep. I can see there is more so I walk in with hope in my heart. This is an important distinction I don’t think most internet marketers get as they let segmenting blind them.


My emotional world is too large for someone else to put in a simple marketing matrix. I like Willie Nelson. Will I buy any more Willie? Probably not. Not because I don’t want more but because I feel I have enough with “Stardust”, “Legend – The Best of Willie Nelson” and “The Essential Highwaymen”. It is not that I don’t want more Willie but I would rather make space for someone else. Will some company get that? No. People who like me probably don’t get that logic, so how could a business whose only interest in me is to sell me something.

Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow
Jeff Beck – Blow By Blow

Someone I knew sold me on getting a Hacienda Brothers album. He couldn’t play it for me so he said: “bring it back if you don’t like it”. I didn’t take it back. He had my number because he knows I like Cash & Jones and those Hacienda boys could have been their love children.

If you are looking to attract & build a fan base then you can’t afford to miss that distinction.

If your record happens to have elements of Country, Reggae & Blues then let that be the case. So long as the story of your record and who you are is strong then it is a good thing. The Police were The Police despite being a fairly big grab-bag of styles in one place. Their story was a good one.  Remember that I like Dwight Yoakam, Black Sabbath & Spice Girls records. I like them all because they speak to me. Segments don’t get that but a feeling human can.

You can’t and shouldn’t segment fans or even your record. Art is art. Sure you want to sell more copies but in an over-saturated world where everyone is playing with people and what they allow them to do/see/think, in fear they don’t get the dollar, then you need to be the alternative choice, the antidote.

The Original Wrapper

People like to make sense of things – put them in a box. Don’t feel that you need to operate in someone else’s box. Describe to visitors what your box is. You need a box or people will be confused but your box can be you-shaped. Lou Reed had a Lou Reed shaped box and we loved him for it

You can’t compete head-on with Muse, or whoever is the flavor of the minute as you read this article. Don’t try. You can offer something unique by offering something that is genuinely you. That doesn’t mean you have to stop writing Metal or Pirate-Step in favor of pretending to be Bob Dylan. It merely means that your songs must speak to a need in humans. The type of humans who think the way I do about the buying of more Willie Nelson records. They are the people most likely to actually engage with you without being told to by some segmented marketing campaign.

Tag, You’re “It”

Walter Carlos - Switched On Bach
Wendy Carlos – Switched On Bach

YouTube is probably the best at offering things that are passably related to what I have looked at before. Sadly this is also largely based on what other people have done. It plays the numbers, but your early fans don’t play the numbers (and you have no numbers to play). So if you and your video is new then you really do need to Tag with appropriate things to try to get served next to a similar track. If you are writing Goth that has more in common with Sisters of Mercy than Marilyn Manson then Tag appropriately (and send me a link). Better to be served to 2 people who are open to you than 200 who aren’t.

Let the user be the chooser as they have their own internal logic.

If you haven’t already noticed, the number of people landing on your site is distressingly small. You need to be sure these people have the opportunity to engage in every way they want as they will be gone very soon. Good luck in keeping them long enough to even hear your latest song in entirety. Think about what you would want if you picked up a CD in a store and had no idea who the act was. What would help you decide if you were in or out?

I would want to know what sort of music. That is hard to pop on a cover but if you wear a Cowboy hat or look like Adam Ant then I have a good idea. You can show the people in your band. You can tell me what instruments they play*. I may scan lyrics because if they are all about muthaf#@kers n bitches then I’m not down with that. I will look at the Producer and backing players. If you have Mick Karn playing Bass then I’m twice as interested (well thrice seeing as he is dead). I will even look at who wrote the songs. Overall I create a kind of sense of who you are from all those cues. Use them well.

When people arrive on your website make it really clear what you do. Show your latest record (which should be no older than 6 months). Explain your box by telling a story – a truly human one (without false heart-string pulling).

Once people leave your site, hope they have your record and start talking. If someone who knows me tells me to have a look at your new record I am far more likely to show up. Your 15 seconds starts now…

Are you ready?

– – –

If you don’t know how to do this stuff then ask. There are people who know how to help you explain your box so other people can make sense of you.

*I never trust a musician who plays 57 instruments. Keep it simple – at least on the surface. I’m listening to a Miles Davis CD right now (first time ever!) and I have a sneaky feeling he could have covered every instrument on this record but we know him as a horn player. Makes him easy to place.

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