The Evolving World of Audience Targeting

  |  July 27, 2011   |  Comments

New ways to reach the right person with the right message at the right time for the right price.

As someone who has lived through many years of technological advances, I'm often reminded of how fleeting some of these breakthroughs can be in retrospect. For example, in the past two decades alone, I've been weaned on and have totally abandoned such world-changing things as the Sony Walkman, VCRs, floppy disks, TV antennas, GIF-based banner ads, and record players, to name a few. My point is that technology is always in flux and always evolving, and the ways that we do things today may be very different tomorrow.

The list above represents just a few forms of media playback. I suspect it would be sobering to consider other technological comings and goings in the fields of transportation, medicine, and manufacturing as well.

I bring this up because I often run into a certain level of technological "disfocus" when I work with my clients that I feel gets in the ways of real marketing challenges and goals. For example, from time to time I will work closely with a client who insists that they want to include a technology like Twitter as part of their marketing mix. While there's nothing wrong with embracing new ways to get things done, the problem comes when they are unable to explain why they want that technology. Does the technology offer solutions that will help set marketing goals? Does the technology offer a unique channel of communication that will help the conversation stand out from the crowd? Is the technology being considered just because it's new and cool?

For those of us who dwell on the audience targeting side of the fence, we've also seen a huge evolution of the technologies we use and the methodologies that got us here. The concepts behind contextual targeting have evolved to include behavioral targeting, which has evolved further to include data-driven audience targeting. While the tools have changed, the central core behind the use of these tools has pretty much stayed the same: how can I reach the right person with the right message at the right time for the right price?

In fact, that question has been at the core of advertising since the dawn of advertising, but it has only been in recent years that we have developed the tools and methods that allow us to truly control and measure the process that can best answer this question.

Audience targeting is still a relatively new science. There are plenty of areas for improvement and new breakthroughs being made every day. However, at the core of all this progress sit the fundamentals. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts to consider:

  • Don't give up what's already working for "flavor of the day." Sure, new technology can be exciting, but it's also kind of like getting a new puppy. Any new tool will take plenty of time to get "trained." It's better to stick with the "old dogs" that haven't already been put through your paces while you train the new one. If what you are using to reach target audiences is improving month after month, then keep riding it until it can't. Maybe by then the puppies will be ready to play.
  • Run your targeting campaigns with intent and conviction. There's a great old saying that says "begin as you mean to go on." If you're going to use audience targeting technologies to do a better job of reaching the right people with a message, then don't do it in half measures. I'm not suggesting that you need to shift your entire marketing budget to the cause, but I am saying that you need to be willing to make a time and money commitment to reach your targeting goals. Start with the supposition that you are going to get closer to your target every time you run a campaign. You're also going to continuously learn what doesn't work as well and what works better.

    This optimization phase is a hugely necessary part of any process, but in order to reach your goals, you will need to continuously move forward. This isn't a "once in a while when we have the budget" type of thing. It's more like tending houseplants. If you decide to take a few months off from watering them, they will die. It doesn't much matter how much water you give them after that; you can never return to the point where you stopped once you do. Keep moving forward so that you can sow the results of all your ongoing efforts.

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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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