Editor's note: Luis Molina is vice president of consumer insights at GfK. He can be reached at luis.molina@gfk.com.

Today, marketers are increasingly segmenting to target small groups of consumers for short-term gains. It makes complete sense. To peel away shoppers from other brands, marketers focus on narrower and narrower slices of the population. As a result, consumers now expect almost every product to be made and marketed “just for them” – from features to packaging to store placement. If SKUs were any more customized, they would be monogrammed with the buyer’s initials. 

But for brands, there is a rub with this approach – and it is no small concern. 

“Narrowcast” targeting by itself does not build a healthy brand in the long term. Why? Because you need to develop a rich funnel of future buyers before you start drilling down and matching specific targets to compatible brands. 

In fact, the key to building long-term success is to achieve greater mental availability for your brand across a wider array of occasions and people. Marketers must integrate KPIs such as brand performance into their segmentation methodologies to assess how well a brand fits against key segment and occasion needs. We can then use these to determine not only among whom and when the brand has the best “right to play” but also identify opportunities where it can penetrate the consideration set further.

In the words of Mark Ritson – a leading thinker in marketing and brand management – “The only way to achieve sustainable … growth is to balance targeted activation with brand-building aimed at the whole market – it’s not either-or.”1

Activating this kind of two-pronged approach to segmentation – merging short- and long-term focuses – requires innovative thinking and a continuous program of data assessment and refreshing. Anything less will create a costly imbalance and lead to challenges that no brand wants t...