Let Consumers Tell You What They Want

I recently played substitute teacher for a day at my son’s school. Being cooped up on a rainy day with 20 six to eight year olds, I learned plenty. Each student has a unique learning method. Some are visual, some want written instructions. Some want each step of a project laid out, some want to be shown, and some want to try before they’re shown. Some want to follow along, others complain everything is “stupid.” One thing is clear: they’re not all the same person.

In marketing, this lack of sameness has been poorly addressed. For years, we’ve created one-size-fits-all campaigns designed to seep into the general population and stick to a percentage of consumers.

Broadcast models long assumed the target audience for any network-advertised product was anyone watching. Some cable channels have more defined verticals due to their thematic content (think HGTV or Food Network).

With the Internet, definable vertical markets are clearer and easier to address. Even with new levels of definition, many advertisers still try to apply traditional mass-marketing models to reach audiences. Results are underwhelming.

In the 1870s, manufacturer and dry goods pioneer John Wanamaker famously said, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” This is no longer the case. Today, we get immediate metrics from online ads, whether we monitor traffic flow to a site, how an ad was interacted with, or feedback from consumers interested in learning more about our products or services.

Online advertising sounded the death knell for mass marketing as we know it. The masses were once the target market for anyone with a dream and a marketing budget. Most direct marketers fully understood 95 to 99 percent of their efforts fell on deaf ears, but the margins and business models were designed to tweak a profit from the 1 to 2 percent of consumers in the real target audience.

When we talk about target markets, we often base those definitions on basic demographic indicators, such as gender, age, and education and income levels. All provide a high-level filter but are often too simplistic to serve as more than ballpark approximations. Most consumers are more complex than the demographic factors to which they conform. We must tell each consumer a story meaningful to him alone.

One-to-one marketing generally requires a well-honed, targeted group of customers who are identified as prime conversion candidates.

What about online marketers who must reach a target market without really knowing who they are or where they dwell? Ask the consumer to lend a hand.

For over 15 years, I’ve worked with cognitive marketing models that allow consumers to learn what they need to know about a product or service by finding a method of learning that fits their cognitive needs. Consumers choose a path that personalizes the marketing experience. This empowerment leads to greater understanding and value of the content presented and how offers apply directly to that consumer.

In behavioral marketing, finding the target audience is often as easy as asking consumers what they need. A solid media buy that lands you in the right neighborhood is an important first step. Then, winnow down the audience to a higher percentage of who you feel the target audience represents before taking advantage of technologies that allow the consumer tell you what really makes him tick.

Interactive ad formats mean asking a simple question, such as preference between two products, cuts to the chase. When the consumer can choose an information pathway, it saves the advertiser the effort of figuring out which product appeals to that consumer. Messaging is more direct, the conversion is based on an informed buying decision, and the consumer is empowered. What’s not to like?

Behavioral data can be used to get ads in front of people with the greatest chance of becoming customers. Although numbers vary, the industry average is higher than the 2 percent direct marketers pray for with their campaigns.

Enhancing behavioral targeting with other interactive technologies can create a level of personalization not available on the mass-market level. Personalization can do a better job reaching a wider range of consumers, many of whom might not have fit more traditional target consumer guidelines.

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