Why broad audience targeting shouldn’t be your digital targeting strategy

Ángel Pino

14 September 2017

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The internet and digital media are the new mass media. This statement is almost a mantra in the world of marketing, and an unquestionable truth for companies and media buying agencies that bombard a digital universe full of users with their messages, without mercy. And it’s true, the data shows us that computers and especially mobiles, have helped relegate TV to last place. Computers and mobile have won out, they’re the screens we spend the most time with our eyes affixed to. Social networks take up more and more time in the lives of their growing user base. But does this mean that we should be replicating traditional media strategies on the Internet?

17. Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.” Cluetrain Manifesto.

In 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, David ‘Doc’ Searls and David Weinberger jointly developed the so-called Cluetrain Manifesto, a series of 95 theses that sought to explore the new communicative paradigm between companies and “the markets” brought about by the rise of the Internet. And even in 1999, the authors made note that in a new and incipient world connected by the World Wide Web, to simply copy and paste successful strategies used to communicate via TV and apply them to a new market, would be a mistake. What is the difference between them? According to a study by TradeDoubler, a Swedish company specializing in marketing and performance, “almost half – 49% – of people will ignore a brand if they are bombarded with ads or if they believe that advertising is irrelevant, while a third, 36%, are more likely to buy a branded product that sends them personalized messages.”

What does this mean? The days of standard messages pushed out at peak times, targeting mass audiences, and investing heavily before considering different audience types, are over. We’re a long way from that panorama of media in which the user was offered limited content and sat down as a passive viewer to consume it. Internet and technology have made it possible for users to find exactly what they want and select from a very broad offer. They’re no longer content with being a number.

The communicative ecosystem is now a large network that eliminates the hierarchy of the communication process, placing both sender and receiver at the same level – the user has become the protagonist. This change was inevitable; to connect with or build a relationship with a user we must put the user at the center of the strategy, including communication, and not a mere subject to be bombarded with irrelevant corporate or commercial messages. A change of mentality is necessary, companies must be more human centered and put their clients at the heart of their communicative strategy, not just the end goal. Obviously, this involves moving from mass advertising campaigns in which the user is just another number, to a series of specific campaigns in which the user plays the role of protagonist, with objectives defined according to the target and the message.

How to segment our ads? Mass Audiences vs. Specific Audiences

P&G, at the end of last year, was confronted with this very dilemma when Marc Pritchard, the company’s Product Manager, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that they planned to change their micro-macro targeting strategy from micro to macro because they were not achieving expected results at sales level.

“We targeted too much, and we went too narrow”, he said in an interview, “and now we’re looking at: What is the best way to get the most reach but also the right precision?

As this strategy change was made public, Alex Smith, head of digital planning at media agency Maxus, concludes:

If more brands start to adopt the P&G approach, you would hope they don’t immediately jump to target everyone and think it will work. Targeting has to be balanced and unique to that brand.

The number of brands continuing with a strategy of macro segmentation at all levels of communication is dwindling. Although a product or service may be of interest to a large number of people, that does not mean that communication will be effective across every channel or that all forms of digital advertising activation performed by the brand will be relevant or useful.

But where are the numbers that prove this?

At Good Rebels, our campaign strategy is concretized by a more specific conversion, the need to find more affluent audiences and to segment for more specific audiences increases. Experience and statistics have shown us; approaching a broad audience is a less effective investment and brands are unable to make a connection with consumers. A more specific approach is often accompanied by higher impact costs but lower cost per result.

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Earlier this year Good Rebels launched a Facebook Offers campaign. Different targeting routes were chosen, from user interests, personalized audiences with customer data (CRM), similar audiences, and a Web Traffic Custom Audience. Which had the best results? In both costs per result and conversion rate, the Web Traffic Custom Audience performed best. When utilizing a website custom audience, the cost per coupon claimed was 50% cheaper than using customer data and 9 times cheaper than when using interest targeting. When comparing these two targeting strategies, specific targeting by users proved the most successful. The reason? The Custom Audience segment for traffic barely amassed a potential audience of 2,500 users…users who had visited a key web page related to the product on offer.

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Another example; we launched one campaign with an objective of video visualizations for a cosmetics brand. The most defined segmentations obtained 10% more video views up to 95% video duration, and the average time users spent watching the video rose by 20%. In partnership with the same brand we launched a second campaign aimed at increasing the number of comments received during a competition campaign, the cost per post share was 210% higher using generic targeting, and 220% higher for comments made, this number reached 400% in some cases.

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The data speaks for itself; with specific objectives, relevant users are more responsive. Brands benefit not only financially, but also from an increased level of brand affinity, which in turn strengthens brand recall.

Should we then target only those users who already consume our brand?

The short answer is no. To expand on that we must reflect. In an industry like digital, where advances in technology make it even easier to accurately target those individuals who will be most interested in the products and services we’re selling, does it make sense to continue bombarding the user with standard messages? P&G ensured that its sales were not dependent on specific targeting. Was P&G customizing the messages used in their specific targeting campaigns for those audiences? Consumer products like toothpaste and shampoo lend themselves to mass audiences, because from young to old, regardless of sex, everyone has a tube of toothpaste in their bathroom. However, insights for each demographic are different, as are consumer drivers. Would it make sense to focus our efforts on personalized messages created for specific targets? The answer is probably yes.

Social media perfectly represents the communicative paradigm of the Internet. The model of transmitter, message and passive receiver is ingrained and a communicative network has arisen composed of multiple nodes that transmit and receive at the same time. Brands are just one part of a greater conversation taking place on the Internet, and social media has changed the way that users relate to brands. However, most brands have forgotten one very important point made within Cluetrain Manifesto:

“3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.”

Soon, more and more brands joined in with the conversation, choosing to adopt a more commercial, more humanised, voice, over traditional corporate tone. The user stopped talking and began to ignore the messages they received. Organic spread was in decline. The solution? Advertising came to the rescue and gave these companies a voice, but the voice, they concluded, has to sound more human.

The bottom line is that impressions are just a number, they may be cheap to achieve but irrelevant to the user, and expensive if we examine the real costs involved in achieving them. Concrete goals, campaigns aimed at specific users and personalized messages – this is, without a doubt, the formula for success.

At Good Rebels we love advertising, but good advertising. Advertising which puts people at the center, as we say in our Manifesto:

We love advertising: inspiring, engaging, funny, smart advertising. We hate advertising: intrusive, boring, spamming, untrustworthy advertising.