Are You Aiming for the Right Audience?

  |  November 17, 2010   |  Comments

Don't reach the right audience with the wrong message, or vice versa.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that comes with getting any campaign off the ground is a solid understanding of who the target audience for that campaign is. In my experience, new campaigns often suffer from two distinct targeting miscalculations:

  1. Reaching the right audience with the wrong message
  2. Reaching the wrong audience with the right message

Where we aim and what we hit are often different considerations. For example, a recent client of mine was looking to reach people who were wellness enthusiasts and who were interested in measuring personal data for a sleep monitoring device they were selling. As a result, we structured the different prongs of the campaign, search and display predominantly, to target people who were interested in health and wellness and showed a propensity for self-monitoring.

But that's not who we ended up reaching.

In this case we found that our initial target audience showed a lukewarm response to the offers and were even worse convertors. Instead, from the data we collected we discovered that we were getting the most attention from mothers with babies, new car buyers, and early technology adopters.

The "mothers with babies" segment served as a solid signal that the people who were suffering from sleep deprivation were the same people who were going to find a tool that measures sleep levels relevant and interesting. This was an audience in pain and they were looking for a solution! While the product being sold couldn't magically make babies and their parents sleep through the night, the dominance of this segment did serve as a clear signal that this group and other "troubled sleepers" would find value in our offer.

The "new car buyers" segment was an interesting surprise because it didn't fit any of the targeting criteria we had laid down at the start of the campaign. There also didn't seem to be a direct correlation between wanting a new car and wanting a device that could measure sleep habits. In the end, we agreed that, especially in a down economy, people who might be interested in buying a new car might also be people with some disposable income, and that this segment would be one that would consider spending a few hundred dollars on a new product to not be a big deal.

As for the early technology adopters, while not planned, it made a lot of sense in context. However, as wonderful as it was to get a great conversion percentage from this segment, we also wanted to keep in mind that this was a fickle audience at best. While we were happy for the kick-off business, this was a group that couldn't be relied on for the long run.

Because of our data-mining with this campaign, we were able to shift our targeting and our marketing dollars to better reach these dominant segments for the next month. And the month after that.

In fact, there is no rest when targeting audiences. Each month the data seems to flow in a slightly different direction until, as a marketer, you have a fine-grained understanding of the market, the responding segments, and the optimum target audience.

Let me share with you a few takeaways that may help you do a better job of defining and reaching target audiences for your campaigns:

  • Acknowledge that where a campaign starts and where it ends can be very different places – in short, be willing to be wrong! The idea that you're going to hit the targeting bull's-eye with your first shot is long on wishful thinking and short on reality. Like everything else that you do, you are going to learn plenty along the way. With targeted advertising you need to be able to change your thinking based on the campaign data you get back and remain flexible. Sometimes you end up totally abandoning your original target audience because it turns out that the fishing is better elsewhere.
  • Don't jump too quickly onto "false positives" – like with our "early technology adopters" segment making itself known, while it was welcome business and attention, there is no long tail here. Changing our campaign creatives and budgeting to reach this fickle audience may milk a few months of love, but because of the nature and motivation of these consumers, the segment will eventually vanish as their attention is drawn to something newer and cooler. Instead, look for the emerging segments that appear to be on the rise and consider what kind of life-cycle they will display. Sometimes slow and steady wins this race.
  • Remember that campaign results are driven by a number of different things. While reaching the right consumers with the right message is important, so is having credible and engaging landing pages, clear benefits, and an easy-to-understand ordering system. Any weak link in the chain can end up reducing conversions. Bottom line: your target audience may love your offer but hate the follow-up.

Thoughts? Stories to share? We love to hear from you!


Rob Graham

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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