Hitting the Bulls-Eye When Targeting

My mother tells me I have an overactive imagination. Sometimes, I imagine myself as the protagonist in a high-stakes video game centered around navigating the oversaturated advertising landscape. I duck to dodge a barrage of ads that are targeted to “women in the US between the ages of 18 and 34”; barrel roll to avoid an ad for an electric camping stove. I click, out of a fleeting curiosity, and am rewarded with camping supply ads for the foreseeable future. Mission failed.

Google makes little effort to hide their data collection process, citing a desire to give highly personalized, relevant results (i.e. ads). I’ve come to peace with this practice, especially because as a marketer I understand the value of well-targeted advertising. As a consumer, I personally prefer an ad that reflects the products and services that I would genuinely be interested in.

Unfortunately, many advertisers are forced to rely on 3rd party data aggregates to create targeted campaigns, which can sacrifice accuracy for scale. This targeting is based on limited algorithms and oftentimes misleading assumptions about consumer behavior; (for example, clicking on a camping stove which must mean that I have an interest in a sub-zero sleeping bag). What is an advertiser, limited by the capacity, to do?

Define your audience. Properly define your audience. Sit your team down (while we’re on the subject: is your team diverse enough?) and flesh out exactly who your consumer is. Don’t just stop at age, location, gender – look at their behaviors, both exhibited and predicted. What does that mean?

Exhibited can also be defined as “past” behaviors – actions that the audience member has already taken. Predicted is defined as “future” behaviors, with an emphasis on the likelihood of that action actually occurring. Let’s apply this principle to marketing a keto-friendly frozen dinner:

  • Audience Member 1: Female, 18-34, Washington DC, Ward 2, within 1 mile of a grocery store; history of yo-yo dieting, emphasis on low-carb or Atkins; search history of quick and easy healthy meals to eat for weeknights; search history of diets for weight loss; video watch history of keto 101/what is ketosis; likelihood of purchasing frozen meals; likelihood of repurchasing frozen meals; likelihood of starting keto diet
  • Audience Member 2: Male, 18-34, Washington DC, Ward 3, within 1 mile of a grocery store; history of keto diet; search history for quick and easy keto meals for weeknights; search history of keto-friendly foods; likelihood of purchasing frozen meals; likelihood of repurchasing frozen meals; likelihood of maintaining keto diet
  • Audience Member 3: Female, 18-34, Washington DC, Ward 4, within 1 mile of a grocery store; content creator of Keto 101 videos; long history of keto diet; active lifestyle; likelihood of purchasing frozen meals; likelihood of repurchasing frozen meals; likelihood of sharing information about the product

By breaking our audience down in this manner, we have a barometer for the type of copy that might resonate with each segment.

For Audience Member 1, our language would be tailored to the keto-curious beginner who is looking for an easy and less-daunting way to embark on this diet journey. The voice would be welcoming and nonjudgmental with laymen terms about ketosis.

Audience Member 2 may respond well to copy that speaks to keto not being a fad, but that also acknowledges its difficulty and provides an alternate for days where cooking just isn’t an option. The voice would be empathetic and conversational, dropping some mid-level language about the keto diet.

Audience 3 is a seasoned keto dieter and, more importantly, a cultural influencer. When creating the copy, you would suggest that this a great resource to share with individuals who are afraid of starting their keto journey and that even those who have the access and knowledge to create a keto meal themselves will find this frozen meal up to snuff. The voice would be informed but not educational and contain high-level language regarding ketosis to make this audience feel respected.

Once you’ve figured out who your audience is, you must figure out where they are and what types of ads they respond to. This part, I’m afraid, is a whole lot of trial and error. Play around on different platforms and, if budget allows, experiment with innovative creative types. As you’re doing so, always refer back to your defined audience and determine whether or not this would be the best way to reach them.

You may start your campaign and just let it run its course. Trust me, I know that it’s tempting! However, when you examine your results weekly or bi-weekly and continuously refine your audience, you’re adding a human touch to data targeting. Over time, you improve your targeting practices and understanding of your audience. This is what will make your paid campaign more accurate and advertising more “authentic”.

That being said, my best ailment for your targeting woes looks beyond the realm of paid advertising. To improve as a marketer, you must split your efforts between paid and organic efforts. Whether your organic effort is social listening or having meaningful conversations with your online community, having that “human touch” is a crucial complement to any paid advertising campaign.

A highly targeted campaign backed by “authentic” conversation – a two-way conversation between advertiser and consumer – is the only real advertising bullseye; curiosity on behalf of the marketer is that secret ingredient to success. Your desire to engage with and truly learn about your audience and its needs always produces the best advertising campaigns, from creative to targeting right down to analytics.

Say we come full circle to the video game analogy. Let’s argue that this is the type of game you play through multiple times. Think of 3rd party data vendors as a disorganized list of cheat codes. The majority of your first run is unscrambling the list and figuring out which cheat code to use in each situation. Think of our tactic of refined targeting and organic efforts as playing through the actual game once, and learning about the landscape and characters and plotlines.

How does your initial choice impact your second run? Don’t just rely on cheat codes. Learn the game to beat the game.

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