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Donald W. Hine, Wendy J. Phillips, Aaron B. Driver, and Mark Morrison

Scientists and policy makers face significant challenges when attempting to engage the public about climate change. An important first step is to understand the number and nature of the audiences one plans to target—a process known as audience segmentation. Segmentation involves identifying, within an audience or target population, homogenous subgroups that share similar demographic and/or psychographic profiles. After segmenting an audience, climate change communicators can target their messages based on the unique characteristics of each subgroup. For example, to stimulate engagement and behavior change, messages aimed at audiences that are skeptical about climate change may require different content and framing than messages aimed at audiences already deeply concerned about climate change. The notion of matching message content to audience characteristics has a long history, dating back to the Ancient Greeks. More recently, audience segmentation has played a central role in targeted advertising and also social marketing, which uses marketing principles to help “sell” ideas and behaviors that benefit society. Applications to climate change communication are becoming more common, with major segmentation and communication initiatives being implemented across the globe. Messages crafted to meet the needs of specific audience segments are more likely to be read, understood, and recalled than generic ones, and are also more likely to change behavior. However, despite these successes, the approach has not been uniformly embraced. Controversies have emerged related to the cost effectiveness of segmentation strategies, choice of segmentation variables, potential effects related to social stigmatization, whether segmentation encourages shallow (as opposed to deep) change, the extent to which segments are “found” as opposed to socially constructed by researchers, and whether interindividual differences are best conceptualized in terms of categories or dimensions.


Mark Morrison, Donald W. Hine, and Steven D'Alessandro

Communication with farmers about climate change has proven to be difficult, with relatively low acceptance of anthropogenic climate change or the idea that climate change will negatively affect agriculture. Many farmers have been impervious to climate change communications because of the nature of farming, their worldviews, and the controversies about climate change in the media. Segmentation studies from the agriculture and natural resource management literatures provide evidence of homogeneous farmer groups internationally with respect to climate change attitudes and behaviors in a farming context. Understanding these segments—including their values, beliefs, and behaviors—is important for developing tailored and targeted communications approaches. Based on understanding of commonly observed farmer segments, it is possible to tailor communication strategies to better engage with segments of concern, including which message to use, appropriate sources, as well as alternative communication techniques based on participatory approaches and use of the arts. For certain segments, discussion about human-induced climate change should be avoided given that it is contentious and not critical for how farmers should respond to climate change. Theoretical frameworks from psychology and marketing—such as the theory of planned behavior, the attitude-to-behavior process model, the motivation and opportunity and determinants (MODE) model, motivation to avoid harm, and the elaboration likelihood model—can also be used to inform the design of communication strategies for engaging with farmers. However, a careful analysis of farmer segments, their worldviews, their beliefs, and their position in the consumer decision-making process suggests that the recommendations from these theoretical models should not be implemented uniformly across farmer segments. Rather, the various theoretical models provide a number of strategies that need to be selectively applied based on knowledge of the target segment. While use of theory and understanding of segments will help to improve communications with farmers, it is apparent that changing the beliefs of farmers in some segments about the need to respond to climate change will require more than simply increasing the quantity or quality of communications. Engaging farmers in these segments requires a much richer information set and a much greater effort to show farmers how they should be responding to climate variability and change using practical demonstrations and participatory approaches.