Avoid the dangers of stereotyped product promotion - Gifts for Boys… and Girls!

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Before Christmas I was drawn to a news story about a 7-year old girl (Maggie Cole) who was offended by a sign displayed in Tesco advertising superhero alarm clocks as “Fun Gifts for Boys”. As a fan of superhero toys and TV programs, Maggie was affronted by the sign.

Her mother tweeted Tesco and the campaign group Let Toys Be Toys; the tweet went viral and Tesco has since removed the sign! This is by no means an isolated case, and it is certainly not unique to the toy market. Shops don’t put up signs with the aim of enforcing gender stereotypes, it is done to try to attract people (in this case people looking for gifts for boys) to what they think will be an appropriate product. However, what this case does highlight to me is that people are different; if you group people together at too broad a level, there will be a great deal of variation within the group, which can defeat the point of segmenting in the first place.

To Segment, or Not to Segment

Why would you segment your customers? Why not just send the same email/catalogue/ promotional offer to everyone?

The answer is not particularly difficult. If your customers will, on average, spend a couple of minutes on your website and see maybe just 10% of the products you have for sale, you want to make sure the products they are likely to be interested in are included in that 10%. By segmenting your customers, you can try to present the most appropriate products for each group of customers first, thereby increasing conversion rates and so maximising revenue.

The problem with this approach is how accurate you can be. If you just have two groups, Male and Female, you might then promote “Boys Toys” and “Girls Toys”. The problem here is clear: you probably will see some uplift, but the likes of Maggie Cole will not be well served by or appreciative of this approach, and in fact the negative PR could end up being costly or damaging to your brand.

OK, so let’s be more granular with our segmentation, let’s bring in more variables such as age, economic factors, and even purchase history. But how many segments do you create? 4? 8? 100!? The next question is how your Marketing team manages all of these segments? How much time will it take to pick the best products and create the different versions of a communication or promotion for 100 segments?

Segment at an individual level

These days there is a different way to approach this problem. We have the technology and sophistication available to look at each customer or prospect as an individual, and to use modelling and profiling to predict the products or services of greatest interest to them.

It is entirely possible to manage this much variation in your marketing communications. You can design your communications with something as simple as three spaces, one for each product, then setup your campaigns so that for each individual selected you pull in the details of the three most appropriate products. Most marketing teams already personalise communications by using the name of the customer in the salutation – this is not that much more complex!

This individual level personalisation doesn’t need to mean the death of segmentation. There are still good reasons for clustering your customers into similar groups, including understanding the type of customers you have.

It Really Works!

The previously described scenario – sending customers an email with three recommended products, based on modelling – is exactly what we did for one client recently. The campaign raised over £70K in revenue and sold over 350 different individual products.

Technology Can Help

There are several ways that modern marketing technology and the services of an agency like Data HQ can help with this including:

- Segmentation/Modelling
- Marketing Automation
- Single Customer View


  • Have you seen any other stereotyped product promotion?
  • Do you feel you need to segment at a more individual level?
  • Have you already used any of the above tools to improve your targeting?