Several years ago I was working with an advertiser on a rich media advertising campaign. As with most clients, I started the campaign preparation by identifying specific campaign goals, the key performance indicators (KPIs) we should measure to determine campaign success, and the target audience for the campaign. In this instance, when asked who the target audience was, the client quickly answered "everybody!"
The ultimate goal for any advertising campaign is to "get the right message in front of the right consumer at the right time." While this approach makes perfect sense on paper, it's often very hard to implement in reality because advertisers are generally too close to their own brands emotionally to understand how "everybody" might not be interested in buying from them.
In short, it's not very likely that everybody will come to a consensus about anything, let alone your advertising offers. Even if you were focused on selling something seemingly universal in need like drinkable water or breathable air, I have little doubt that there will still be consumers who wouldn't be willing to buy from you.
Effective branding brings with it the need to step away from one's brand in order to see it with fresh eyes. Make a list of objections that consumers might have if asked to buy from you. While you may be able to count off numerous and meaningful benefits that your products or services provide, also keep in mind that most consumers probably don't share that insight. By honestly identifying your offer's shortcomings you can then leverage that insight into creating campaigns that do a better job of presenting these benefits to consumers.
I have also worked with, from time to time, advertisers who are too busy setting percentage goals for their campaign that they fail to consider just who those consumers are. More than once I've listened to advertisers explain that if they could reach "just 1 percent of American consumers" that would be a perfect campaign.
While I don't wish to rain on anybody's daydream, reaching 3 million-plus Americans is a lot harder than just thinking about it. I mean, who wouldn't want to get their message in front of several million consumers? But even if you were able to pull this off, how can you be sure that the consumers seeing your advertising are the ones who have a current need for what you offer and are willing to take action immediately to fulfill that need?
Again, effective targeting is less about reaching a large number of consumers and more about reaching the right consumers. To be successful, advertisers need to understand how to position their offers so that product benefits are succinctly communicated to prospective customers so they can use this new understanding to make an informed buying decision.
Finally, consider the timing of an offer. Almost every offer has optimal timing parameters based on consumer seasonal needs, time of day, day of week, work times, meal times, leisure times, or times when people feel lonely and vulnerable.
An understanding of the human needs cycle is often as close as observing your own behavior as a consumer. Few people crawl out of bed thinking that the breakfast of champions includes a nice cold beer or offer for an online dating service. Likewise, most people settling into an evening of entertainment aren't going to be scanning for offers for a breakfast sandwich or a discount on copier paper.
In short, position media buys and ad placements at times that make sense for recipients to take action because the need is current.
In summary, "everybody" isn't a target audience for any campaign. The vast majority of consumers will only buy if the benefits of the offer are clear and meet a personal need. This means identifying what those needs are and positioning ads and media buys so that benefits can be quickly and effectively communicated. There is also an optimal time and place for every offer. Identify when those times occur and you can edge ever closer to the premium intersection of matching a meaningful message with consumer need, at the best possible time.
What do you think? We'd love to hear from you.
Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.
A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.
When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.
He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.
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