Marketing to the Bell Curve

While having an extensive statistical background is not a pre-requisite to being a good marketer, it is essential that all marketers have a firm grasp on the importance of the “Bell Curve” in virtually all marketing efforts.  Also known as the Normal Distribution, in a nutshell the bell curve is what it looks like when you graph a group of data points for a “normal” sample of data.  Bell-CurveWhether it is weight, income, IQ, fitness level, etc. data unvaryingly falls into a “normal” distribution when it is plotted.  It has a lot of datapoints around the middle (the average) and outliers at both the high and low extremes.  Please see the image at the right.

The implication for marketers is understanding the segments of the bell curve, and using these segments to your advantage as you orchestrate your marketing efforts.  The quick message is that you can’t market to everyone – as you move across the curve from one end to the other needs change dramatically.  It is always better to market to as specific of a segment of the group, as opposed to the group as a whole.  It is just like target marketing.  You must select who comprises your market segment (portion of the bell curve).

An example will help illustrate this.  Let’s explore the implications of the bell curve for a characteristic mentioned above; fitness level.  On the far left side of the curve, these are the “least fit” people around.  They would have to improve their fitness level significantly in order to even be considered “average”.  On the far right, are the “extreme fitness enthusiasts”.  Everyone else is somewhere closer to the middle – the “mean” or average.  Knowing this, let’s assume we are challenged with marketing a specific service – fitness club membership.  Let’s also assume we have access to proper demographics, and we can target individuals in various fitness level buckets with targeted campaigns.

Marketing to the very far left end  of the bell curve (the most unfit segment) will of course require different messaging than other segments.  For this group, appeals are probably centered on “strive for change” and “you can fit in – members are not all hard bodies”, “Free personal training to get you started” etc.  At the other extreme – the messaging is quite different.  These people have discipline established, and according to our data are already fit.  These are the hard bodies that intimidate their counterparts at the other end of the curve.  Successful appeals to this segment will likely be in messaging such as “Are your abs beach-worthy?  We can help.”  “Your competition is already training for race season.  Will you be ready?”.  This is of course if you decide to market to this group at all.  Perhaps your research shows that they are not viable candidates to join, maybe they are already doing their own thing.  There is no substitute for good research.

Defining how you market to the extremes will help guide you with your messaging across the entirety of your segments.  This of course will only give you some initial targeting ideas.  Critical of course is to do your due testing due diligence.  Ideate, test, measure, refine, re-ideate (not even sure ideate is a real word – so likely re-ideate is not, but you get the idea.)

Quick Takeaway:  Messaging is for market segments, not entire markets.