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Beyond Targeting in the Age of the Modern Consumer

  |  January 15, 2009   |  Comments

Three tips for using "missing link" marketing to solve targeting's shortcomings.

Even the most sophisticated targeting remains a blunt instrument.

Consider the following: an advertiser carefully targets a truck ad to people who watch Fox's "24" on Sunday nights. Even if the ad isn't skipped via DVR, the successful targeting doesn't take into account that the viewer just purchased a truck and won't buy another one.

Another advertiser targets teen boys with skateboard ads placed in certain magazines. This targeting would miss the grandmother who might buy a skateboard as a gift for her grandson.

Packaged goods advertisers target moms with ads during noon soaps; insurance advertisers target heads of households during prime time. The list goes on. But by the time the mom goes to the grocery store, will she remember to act or even remember the ad? Or will the head of household remember to add that insurance company to the consideration set a week later when researching insurance?

Studies have shown that ad recall rates are optimistically around five percent the day after the ad aired. And this drops to zero by the second day after.

Compared to no targeting, targeting has been proven to boost advertiser ROI (define) and increase publisher revenue. But is there a more effective way to spend the increasingly limited number of advertising dollars than the crude approximation that is targeting?

Further, the greater the number of variables used in targeting, the better the targeting but the smaller the number of customers in the target (think direct mailing lists where more variables mean smaller, more targeted lists). However, despite successful targeting, many other factors could stand in the way of the customer completing the purchase (e.g., a man wants to buy a flat screen TV but his wife thinks the family budget can't afford it). So in a simple game of odds, if the advertiser starts with a small target and intersects that with near zero recall or very low response rates, the probability of success (driving the sale) is a rounding error to zero.

Modern Consumers Need Something Else, Different, or More

Targeting presumes the old "push model" where advertisers try to "shoot" a message at certain customers, hoping the message is timely, received, relevant, and recalled. Failing any of these, the ad evaporates into nothingness the moment after it's aired.

Modern consumers don't trust ad messages and usually need more information than is contained in the brief commercial to make a rational purchase decision, especially for higher ticket or more complex products. They start their research online and rely mainly on reviews and recommendations from peers and experts, parties who have no incentive to trick them into buying something.

Each user may be looking for different bits of information -- answers to their "missing links" -- to move toward a purchase. Customers may have different missing links depending on which stage of the "purchase funnel" they're in -- awareness, consideration, choice, purchase, or advocacy.

For example, some in the awareness stage may ask, "What brands of motor oil are there?" Others in the consideration stage may ask, "What's the difference between Mobil 1, Castrol, and Pennzoil motor oils?" And still others in the purchase stage may ask, "Where do I take my car to change the motor oil?" or "What are the prices?"

In the extreme case, every customer can have a different missing link that prevents them from buying. Customers look for answers to these missing links whenever it's convenient, like at 2 a.m. when the kids are asleep. This makes it impossible for traditional forms of "push" advertising to be effective because they rely on relatively large groups of consumers, or "targets," to be doing the same thing at the same time (watching a TV show) to get a tidbit of information (a :30 ad) out to them that's general enough to have broad appeal.

What Does Missing Link Marketing Solve That Targeting Does Not?

By contrast, missing link marketing (definition) means delivering the right bit of information to the right person at the right time (when they're searching for it). It solves many of the targeting's shortcomings.

For example, users need information when they're searching for it, as opposed to information delivered by way of an ad while they're watching television, doing e-mail, or interacting with friends on social networks. Information that answers their question is relevant, as opposed to an approximation of what might be relevant or interesting based on what demographic, behavioral, or psychographic information. Finally, if the answer comes from people like the seeker of the information, it may solve the trust issue and even be in their own words, not the advertiser's words.

One further example: for a new band coming to town, handing out fliers at college dorms might be the perfect targeting. But despite the successful targeting, many potential customers' missing links may be whether the band's music is any good. This will probably prevent them from buying concert tickets. Alternatively, if the band provided clips from prior concerts and let college kids talk about them and share on any social network of their choice, they might more readily solve the key missing links and get more ticket sales (this, of course, presumes their music is good.).

Tips on Delivering on Modern Consumers' Missing Links

  • Use social media to listen for missing links. Because modern consumers converse on social networks, advertisers can "listen" to consumers' questions and learn what information is being sought -- these are the missing links. Knowing this, advertisers can make the answers to these questions more easily findable.

  • Stimulate conversations in public places. Because modern consumers trust information from peers and experts more readily than ad messages from advertisers, advertisers should stimulate conversations and encourage information sharing in public places like forums and social networks. That way, when consumers look for answers online, they can see how other consumers like them are considering specific products or getting answers to their missing links.

  • Identify mavens and give them reasons to talk. Modern consumers look to mavens for recommendations; mavens who have collected sizable followings on their blogs or who have written track records on particular topics should be given sample products or invited to private trials of services so they can review and give feedback that would be useful to other potential consumers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Augustine Fou

Dr. Augustine Fou is the senior digital strategy advisor to CMOs, marketing executives, and global brands. Dr. Fou has over 15 years of Internet strategy consulting experience and is an expert in social media marketing strategy, data/analytics, and consumer insights, with specific knowledge in the consumer packaged goods, financial services/credit cards, food/beverage, retail/apparel, and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors.

He is a frequent panelist, moderator, and keynote speaker at industry conferences. Dr. Fou is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies and at Rutgers University at the Center for Management Development, where he teaches executive courses on digital strategy and integrated marketing.

Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT at the age of 23. He started his career with McKinsey & Company and previously served as SVP, digital strategy lead, McCann/MRM Worldwide and group chief digital officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG). He writes a blog "Rants, Raves about Digital Marketing" and can be found on Twitter at @acfou.

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