Back in the mid or late 80’s, I remember reading articles asking how PC’s could break the age barrier. At the time there was increasing uptake among a certain part of 20 to 25 year olds and then after that segment, purchasing trends fell off like a cliff. Then a few years later, the marketers and industry analysts were thrilled to note that PC’s had cracked the age gap and more 30 to 35 year olds were buying PC’s! This is an example of something a friend and I used to call a Rolling Segmentation.
Ok, so if you don’t get the joke yet, think about it. It’s a few years later….a few years previously, that 30 year old was… 25. There you have it, the big limit of segmentation: it has a very short-term memory, and never accounts for time. If you change your thinking from a simple segmentation to a rolling segmentation, then you can start understanding arcs of behaviors over time. Its pretty simple. The 20 to 25 year olds simply got older and when they turned 30 to 35 were suddenly treated like new beings that just popped up out of a pumpkin patch as fully grown computer buyers.
If you have not encountered the term Segmentation, it’s pretty common in all phases of business, education, government. You reader, are a segment. A segment is simply a way classifying people, places or things into convenient groupings of people or things with (or providing for) similar needs. For more information on segmentation, you can check out the wikipedia entry. I don’t object to segmentations at all. As humans we have a need to classify things into to groupings for easy mental handling. Like other forms of classifications, segmentations let you communicate in a few words long and complex relationships and descriptions. Of course, that implies the segmentation is correct and insightful to start with. That’s a big problem to start with, but if you at least recognize that segments roll forward over time, you can be on the look out for the errors.