Negative Value Audience Targeting

A longstanding issue I’ve had with advertising, in general, is a prevailing assumption that one can find a target audience by simply identifying a data point that all those consumers have in common. Zip code targeting, for example, has been widely abused by marketers assuming that people who live in close proximity of one another must have a lot in common. I can assure you, as far as most of my neighbors go, this is a fallacy that doesn’t quite pan out.

Indeed, Zip code targeting has its place. Local advertisers such as pizza parlors, dry cleaners, and service stations should take advantage of proximity marketing based on data points like Zip codes, because it is out of these local regions that the vast majority of their future business will come. However, proximately targeting data alone does not a future customer make.

All too frequently I receive Zip code-targeted offers for products and services such as dating services, furniture dealers, and people offering to replace the windows in my house or tar my driveway without any consideration at all for what my current marital status, taste in decor, or need for home improvement is. In these cases, targeting me based on my Zip code is about as precise as sticking a dart in a map.

When defining target audiences, a single data point will rarely suffice. Certainly there are examples of effective gender targeting (high heel shoes), age targeting (hip hop music), and geotargeting (snow shovels), where a single data point can be used to effectively reach the vast majority of a target audience, but in most cases we need to dig a little deeper to find meaningful points to target against.

As a marketer, I like to approach audience targeting with a clear understanding of the motivations, needs, and desires of individual consumers. I often find that the best way to identify the best consumers for an offer is to first eliminate any consumer criteria that don’t match those of the optimal target consumer. In short, first identify factors that would make a consumer a lousy candidate for your offer.

As much as we would all like to believe that all consumers are the perfect audience for what we’re selling, this is never the case. When buying media, it is paramount to clearly place yourselves in the shoes of the people you are trying to reach. Get in the habit of thinking about what the products and services you offer can specifically do to help solve a problem or make a personal connection with a consumer. As importantly, honestly ask yourself who wouldn’t be a good candidate for your offer and why by asking questions like:

  • Which consumer behavioral characteristics will render my offer meaningless and unneeded?
  • What lifestyle and environmental factors will get in the way of your offer being a feasible solution for a consumer?
  • What about timing? Are there seasonal, lifecycle, or personal need timelines that this offer doesn’t jibe with?

For example, an advertiser selling riding lawnmowers must take into consideration a number of different negative criteria when reaching a target audience for their products. First and foremost, having a lawn big enough to warrant a riding mower is going to easily eliminate consumers who live in largely urban areas. Likewise, a large lawn generally means either a managed property or a homeowner. Thus, that easily eliminates anybody who rents, no matter how rural the location or lawn size. Also, just because a consumer owns a home doesn’t mean they have a lawn (think desert homes or homes with terraced gardens). Finally, a riding lawnmower is a big ticket item for most consumers. As a result, even home owners who fit all of the other points of criteria may still not be willing to spend $1,000 or more on a riding mower if less expensive hand mowers will do the job.

While paring down the data points will dramatically shrink the pool of prospects, it also reduces the waste and inefficiencies of pitching consumers who have little to zero interest in an offer. On the upside, it can also help to reveal other opportunities such as offering payment plans to consumers who have a desire for the product but don’t want to suffer sticker shock.

Once all of the reasons to not buy have been eliminated, then the optimal targeted consumer will start to emerge. From here it is a simpler task to identify points of commonality between these consumers and better identify which will be the people you want to get your message in front of.

What are your thoughts?

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