Segments vs Audiences

19 Jun 2022 » Opinion

Those of us in the digital marketing industry use very liberally some concepts, taking for granted that everybody knows what they mean. Two of such concepts are “segments” and “audiences”. I have used them in my posts very often, without giving much thought to which word I use. I had a recent enablement session with a customer and I realised that I have never explained these terms.

Why are segments or audiences important?

Before I explain the what, I want to start with the why. While doing my research, I found this web page very interesting: the importance of market segmentation. In particular, at the bottom, it reads:

Segmentation helps marketers to be more efficient in terms of time, money and other resources. Market segmentation allows companies to learn about their customers. They gain a better understanding of customers’ needs and wants and therefore can tailor campaigns to customer segments most likely to purchase products.

I find this explanation to be very accurate and I could have not explained it better.

Are they synonyms?

Before trying to answer this question, let’s start with some definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  • An audience is a group of listeners or spectators or a group of ardent admirers or devotees.
  • A segment is a portion cut off from a geometric figure by one or more points, lines, or planes or a separate piece of something.

Clearly, they do not seem to be the same or even closer. However, in the marketing world, when talking about dividing the population for marketing purposes as explained above, we use the words interchangeably. The way I see it is that, if I take the definition of “segment” above and apply it to the total population, I get an audience.

Does this mean they are synonyms? I am not a linguist, let alone an English native speaker. However, I can provide my point of view, which I know aligns with other people:

  • In general terms, if I am just interested in the high-level concept of dividing the population into smaller groups for marketing purposes, I consider that both terms are equivalent. Note that I have explicitly avoided the word synonym.
  • When I want to talk about the rules or algorithm to create the division, I think that the best term is “segment”. For example, in the analytics world, we are only interested in the aggregate data of the resulting groups, so we tend to use this word. I would even dare to say that if you come from a technical background, “segment” makes more sense.
  • The output of the segmentation engine, after applying the rules defined in a segment, is what I would call the “audience”. In other words, this output is a list of cookies, customers, devices, email addresses… This aligns quite well with its definition. The importance, in this case, is what I am going to do with the members of the list: send them an email, personalize the website or present them with specific advertising. This is what the advertisers are interested in and they will more often use this other term.

I am sure that if you go back to my previous posts, you will see inconsistencies with these definitions. I am very well aware of that and I hope it does not cause much confusion. I will try to be more specific in the future.


Image by Karolina / Kaboompics for

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