Author: BBC Media Action Senior Research Manager Sophie Baskett, originally posted September 27 2017 - In the not-for-profit sector we’ve already learned a lot from marketing techniques developed in the commercial world.

The best known example is probably the use of social marketing to encourage people to use condoms in response to the HIV epidemic. Another technique, audience segmentation (the process of dividing people into groups based on their similarities – or their differences), can help us target the groups we seek to support. Just like a savvy business-person seeking to maximise their return on investment by targeting the specific preferences of consumers; development organisations can tailor their projects to achieve the greatest positive impact.

BBC Media Action is not in the business of making money. But we are most certainly in the business of reaching people with content that both benefits and resonates with them.

This relies on a keen understanding of our target audience – what interests them; who do they trust; what are their priorities in life; what are their preferred means of communication? It goes beyond simple demographics (like age, gender, and income), which, while useful, are really only the beginning of understanding people and what might interest them.

Avoid "buying blind"

Imagine you were tasked with buying a birthday present for someone’s mother and all you know is that she’s a 64 year old woman. What would you buy her, and how likely is it that it will really hit the mark?

Similarly, what if you were designing a project to engage people more in governance? Everyone’s experience of politics, and perception of how they should influence the way their community or country is governed, is different. While this may relate to a person’s age, where they live, or their socio-economic status, these demographic factors do not give us the depth of understanding we need.

We need to understand their perceptions: how much they feel they know about politics and current affairs and how confident they are to engage in politics, as well as whether they are politically active, are part of politically motivated groups, or if they even discuss politics with others. We segmented our audience to do just this.

What our segments tell us

We used data from seven nationally representative surveys across Asia and Africa to identify homogenous sub-groups (in other words, groups of people who share similar characteristics and behaviours), based on their engagement in politics. We then explored correlations between the resulting clusters and various socio-demographic and media consumption characteristics, and triangulated this with qualitative data, to deepen our understanding of each group and develop more ‘tangible’ profiles (or descriptions).

So what did this process reveal about political engagement in the seven countries we explored, and how will we use it? 

We identified and developed five discrete segments across a spectrum of political engagement which ranged from people who are completely ‘detached’ from politics, right through to those who are avidly and actively engaged in political life.

Given how different each segment is in its understanding of, interest and engagement in politics, the intervention likely to reach and resonate with them would also need to be different. Take, for example, the detached segment.

What defines them? They don’t participate in politics, don’t discuss it and feel that they don’t know about it. Yet they express high levels of trust in political institutions, and confidence in their ability to influence politics (efficacy).

Who are they? They are among the most marginalised people in society – the poorest, least educated, and most isolated (by virtue of their geographic location and their lack of access to media). They are most likely to be older females, predominantly living in rural areas. They feel disconnected from the political process in their country. Their detachment is in part due to their physical isolation, which puts ‘distance’ between their daily lives and decisions made in parliament. Because of the day-to-day struggle they face just to get by, their main priorities are making ends meet to support their family. They say they don’t really understand ‘politics’ and ‘government’ and feel that it’s not their concern. As such, they trust that the people making the decisions in government are educated, qualified people – not people like them (or like anyone they know). They don’t follow parliamentary decisions or feel that they understand key national governance issues – effectively, this all happens in an entirely different sphere (or world) from the one they live in.

What do they watch? This group has the lowest level of media access, is the most likely to be completely “media dark” (have no access to any media platform, including a mobile phone) and least likely to have watched or listened to BBC Media Action governance programmes on radio, TV or online. They find programmes about ‘politics’ don’t offer them anything to make their life or their family's life better.

So how would we, as audience researchers, suggest our programme-makers target members of this group? It’s likely to be with content that grounds politics in their everyday lives, focusing on local services and health, education, and employment; and helping them to understand their rights associated with those things. We would recommend the programming features people like them telling stories of engaging in governance activities, and how it helped them.

Know your market

And, it’s all very well producing the right programming, but we are unlikely to reach this group through national media. We would seek local media partners to broadcast our programmes, and build a strong outreach component into the project to take programming to the most isolated community members through facilitated listening groups, road shows and street theatre.

The argument is nothing new: to achieve impact (or in the business world, make money), you not only have to get your product or programme to the right people, you also have to make sure it is meaningful and useful to them. It really is worth putting time, effort and resources into understanding the people you aim to support, and to do this before you start designing your activities. A development intervention, just like any product on the market, should fulfil a relevant need or desire. Otherwise, no matter how well intentioned it is, or how good it looks, it will miss the mark.

Sophie Baskett is senior research manager at BBC Media Action.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work. 

Image credit: BBC Media Action, caption: A snapshot of how we segmented our audience

BBC Media Action
BBC Media Centre, MC3A, 201 Wood Lane
W12 7TQ
United Kingdom (UK)
Phone: 44 (0) 20 8008 0001
Fax: 44 (0) 20 8008 5970