When Targeting Goes Wrong

As times get leaner and online competition gets fiercer, converting your visitors at every chance becomes even more important. Companies constantly question the ROI (define) of spending, especially within marketing and advertising. This can be seen by all the significant cuts companies are making in big ticket marketing spends (e.g., GM’s decision to cut its endorsement deal with Tiger Woods and eliminating its Super Bowl spend).

But these cuts impact online as well. Many companies are re-evaluating how they spend their dollars. In many cases, a lot of the dollars are being spent on attracting traffic to their site. It’s imperative that they can show the ROI and, more importantly, maximize the ROI of that spend.

So targeting the right message in your media to the right audience is a no-brainer. We all know we must test and tune on an ongoing basis. There are plenty of great companies, technologies, and case studies about the dos and don’ts around that. But people still aren’t targeting that experience once they come to the actual site.

One targeting attempt caught my eye the other day when I visited CNN’s Web site. Unfortunately, CNN messed up the targeting to a point where I wouldn’t click on the promotion. If CNN hadn’t tried to target me, I would have been more likely to click on CNN’s promo. Here’s what happened:

During downtime, I often read news on my iPhone from a handful of sites, including CNN. On top of a CNN article, a graphical promotion read: “CNN.com Mobile — Get 1-click access from your BlackBerry,” and it included a picture of a non-descript PDA.

CNN successfully targeted me because I was accessing CNN’s mobile content. Problem is, I don’t use a BlackBerry. And I assume that if CNN’s mobile content works for the BlackBerry, it won’t work on my iPhone in terms of the “1-click access” the site promoted.

In all fairness, maybe someone at CNN looked at Web analytics data and found there’s only one person in the country looking at its mobile site using an iPhone. If this was the case, I applaud CNN for not over targeting and developing something more complex than necessary. But with expectations that Apple will sell more than five million iPhones by year’s end — plus the iPhone’s speed and browser strength — I doubt this is the case.

A few lessons here. Targeting messages makes sense because they can lead to a much higher conversion rate. Take time to understand what you’re basing your targeting on and stay on top of it. What makes sense for targeting today may not make sense for targeting in six months. Constantly test and consider how to maximize the impact of your targeting.

I have a hunch this happened for CNN during their targeting setup, when most traffic on its mobile site likely came from the BlackBerry. That’s likely not the case today. So I could have been mistargeted because of a technology change.

Other factors that could result in mistargeting: changed perceptions due to the economy or an upcoming holiday. Constantly look for ways to better target and maximize your conversion as seasons, events, and technologies change.

Shoot me an e-mail and let me know examples of solid targeting and where you’ve seen targeting gone bad!

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