If you’re creating any kind of content with the intention of attracting an audience that will build your business, the starting point of your efforts must be crystal clear.
I had a client that was an ex-tank commander from the Army. He had a great solution for a payment technology and the right industry relationships to make it successful. An advisor recommended that he talk with us because his business was floundering. Within the first few minutes of talking with him, I knew we could help.
He envisioned his solution working for consumers and convenience store operators as a better alternative for mobile payments. In other words, everyone was his target audience. I said, “you mean no one is your target.” He didn’t like that.
Fortunately, I’ve seen a couple of war movies and shot a rifle or two as a Boy Scout. So I asked him, are tanks zeroed in on targets like guns? In other words, I asked if the tank team assesses the conditions, measures the distance to the target, and fires. “Hell yeah,” he barked with the bravado you’d expect.
“What if you miss?”
“Adjust and fire again,” he growled. “We seldom miss more than once but you often have to zero in your sites to the specific target and the battlefield conditions.”
“That’s what your payment solution is missing. You haven’t zeroed in or a target,” I replied. Within a few weeks, we were “throwing shells” down the digital range (mostly via PPC) and within two years he had identified the target, hit it, and sold the company to one of the large payment providers.
My client was not unlike many other businesses. It is estimated that in the US alone, “$37 billion is wasted in ad spend every year on ads that fail to engage the target audience.”
Today, few would argue with the importance of defining a target audience. This article discusses three ways to identify your target audience so you can define messaging and methods that will help you “hit the target” to generate success.
Classic Audience Targeting: Analyze, Define, and Test
For most companies, even startups, the exercise of audience targeting is based on an analysis of current customers and their competition. Through those two data sets, audience profiles (sometimes called personas) can be created that will help guide decision making for content creation, advertising investments, and performance analysis.
This research will yield audiences that can be defined by demographics, interests, and purchase intent:
- Demographic Targeting: Audience definition based on socio-economic data that describe a user group. This definition focuses on attributes including age, income, education, gender, or geographic location. With a demographic target you can focus your campaign on women, 35–54 with an average household income (HHI) of $100,000 living in Wisconsin.
- Interest-based Targeting: This targeting method has grown in prominence and accuracy as technology has improved our ability to monitor a user’s activities. Classically, interest targeting focused on self-selected interests. From passion for the arts, books, music, and movies to hobbies like car repair, gardening, and buying stocks, interest targeting works from the assumption that a product or service is compelling if the user already likes a specific activity. With interest targeting, you can target messaging about a new sunscreen product to an audience of beach goers.
- Purchase Intent Targeting: In the past, marketers would dream of being able to know who has an interest to buy or need to procure a certain product or service. If you knew someone intended to buy, all you’d have to do is convince them that your product or service was their best option. Through search engines, social media posts, and technologies like retargeting, it is possible to know who is looking to buy what and when they are looking. Of course, technology has also taught us that purchase intent doesn’t mean that a prospect will buy but it will allow you to target those who are thinking about it.
Classic targeting uses data to create groups of prospects that can be pursued with messaging assumed to be compelling to that audience. The paradox of classic targeting is that it requires data, good data, to generate a good target audience.
Lookalike Targeting: From Search to Social
Fortunately, the growth of data technologies and data collection has made it possible to create a target audience in cases where the company doesn’t have a large number of existing customers.
According to MailChimp, “Around 70% of global marketers think finding shoppers who really like their stuff is very challenging.” That’s where data science and marketing intersect. Lookalike and similar audience are common names for creating a target audience based on a small group of ‘real’ contacts.
The way this strategy works is you provide a data partner with as few as 1000 contacts and then they will help you create a target audience with similar profiles. The process varies based on the channel but essentially you will:
- Select the channel partner (Facebook / Instagram and Google have the most data and can create the strongest lists though LinkedIn is rapidly catching up)
- Load a customer list, the larger the better, to guide the channel’s data modeling
- Filter the data (geography, demographics, etc.)
- Generate the audience
This targeting method is great but even 1000 contacts may be more than you currently have. Search and social can help you with that too. Today, you can buy your way to your initial list of prospects.
Yes, you can still purchase a 3rd party list of phone, address and email information. From our experience, the value of 3rd party data is directly related to cost. In some B2B categories, it is not unusual to spend over $2.00 per contact for name, title, email, and phone number. Based on standard engagement models, at $2.00 per contact your costs are $2,000 before you can even begin to contact anyone.
Generating ROI could be a challenge. We recommend getting a sample of the third-party list to make sure it aligns with your target before you commit to buying it.
A better option for many businesses is using the profile information, available on social and search, to introduce your offering as an advertisement. You can manage cost exposure by buying on a CPA or CPM basis (there are cases for BOTH) and managing your budget.
Using the ad to drive to a landing page allows you to immediately gain engagement, build your audience, establish your authority, and begin a customer’s journey even while you’re just getting started.
A Lookalike approach lets you combine content, advertising, data modeling and 3rd party data filtering via social media and search to quickly create, activate, and monetize an audience.
Psychological / Behavioral Targeting
In the early 2000s, I was working on an email campaign for a major sports team. They had a 21-point data profile on season passholders and they wanted to create personas against various data combinations. One that stuck in my head was “military veterans that like rose gardening.”
The reason for the exercise was to find new sales opportunities for sponsors. Testing found that this particular combination (and many others) had little impact on customer activation or engagement, but I have long since used that as a way to enhance traditional audience models and encourage clients to find customers for consideration. There is revenue in “women that repair cars” and “seniors on Snapchat.”
Fast-forward to 2016 and the US election helped to formalize these unexpected audiences through psychological modeling. One of the most well developed is OCEAN. The OCEAN model predicts a user’s actions, like signing up for a newsletter, or trying a new product, by measuring their responses to:
- Openness: Does he/she enjoy new experiences?
- Conscientiousness: Does he/she prefer plans and order?
- Extraversion: Does he/she like spending time with others?
- Agreeableness: Does he/she put other people’s needs before theirs?
- Neuroticism: Does he/she tend to worry a lot?
One of the reasons models like OCEAN are so compelling is that it can break through demographics and generate different expected customer outcomes based on their emotional needs, not just their physical, or measurable attributes.
Psychological targeting is also much more dynamic than traditional audience targeting methods. Your state of mind, sense of security, and desire for growth, all change much more often than age, income, and gender.
Best of all, technology has made it easy to define an audience profile without the need for an arbitrary persona and to tap into data streams to validate and activate unexpected prospects.
Focus on the Right Target: Audience vs. Market
A target market is the set of all of the consumers that a company plans to reach with marketing activities. A target audience is a specific segment within that market that is being contacted via marketing and advertising. This makes the target audience a more specific subset of a target market.
Target audience can often be used interchangeably with target market, but the target market does not always mean the target audience.
For example, a CPA firm that provides accounting may have a target market of small businesses in the Midwest with target audiences of attorneys in Kansas and doctors in Nebraska.
Yes, this can be a subtle difference but understanding it will ensure that your go after the right audience instead of “everyone!”
If the idea of finding your target audience seems overwhelming, know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services