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The Targeting Lies We Tell

Three targeting myths you don't know about (but should)

Targeting is a marketing art. With an arsenal of data, software and acquisition tactics, you have the ability to cast your net wide and reel audiences into valuable, connection-building marketing opportunities.

Like most things in life, your success is proportional to your technique. You use what’s tried and true to see what sticks for your business goals. Previous-generation marketers might call this approach intelligent, with very low possibilities for risk. Modern CMOs, on the other hand, might challenge you to push your limits and second-guess your assumptions.

After all, data gives you a new lens into potential missed opportunities. Over time, you might even learn that the marketing best practices that you’ve learned are actually myths. Let’s start with targeting: here are three words of wisdom that marketers should ignore.

A common misconception from marketing leaders is that targeting is both overly complicated and best reserved for statistical masterminds.
Ritika Puri, Storyhackers Co-Founder

Myth: Targeting is math
Reality: Targeting is storytelling and math

A common misconception from marketing leaders is that targeting is both overly-complicated and best reserved for statistical masterminds. Liat Tzoubari, director of sales and marketing at apartment rental software company Apartable, encourages marketers to reject this idea: You don’t need to be an algorithmist to do targeting right. Tzoubari explains, on the other hand, that targeting is a job for storytellers.

“I think it's a matter of being thorough and truly understanding the data that you have about your customers, including geographic location, demographic attributes, interests and behaviors,” says Tzoubari. “These are key indicators of the people you should be targeting and which connect to your product.”

Dive into your data to uncover what your audiences care about. Use empathy to uncover potential targeting opportunities and customer journey stories.

“Our user base is roughly 60% female and 40% male, aged 25-45. When we delved into the data, we discovered that this larger audience was further divided by family status, activity and location, and that each of these groups interacted with a different aspect of our product,” says Tzoubari.

“This information not only provided us with a plethora of information about our users, but also gave us new, surprising insight into the various uses our audience makes of our product. This understanding allowed us to create a different ad for each aspect of our product, and to successfully tailor the ad to a well-defined group, because we understood the perceived value of our product to that specific group.”

B2B marketers can apply this B2C example to their own targeting practices. Talk to your customers, and learn about their buyer journeys. Apply these findings to your marketing programs.

Myth: Target more of your best customers
Reality: Test new waters

Your best customers are your best customers because they find value in your product – and every marketer knows how important it is to find more of the best. You concentrate on one segment to become a dominant player in your market.

Your CFO will tell you, however, that you can’t have your eggs in one basket. To keep your bottom line healthy, you need a diverse customer base. Targeting should help you test new waters.

“Especially for a growing company, the opposite is more often true: your top priority should be tapping into new markets,” says Marc Prosser, co-founder and managing partner of Marc Waring Ventures, a firm which develops specialty internet properties. “As you grow, who you serve should also grow.”

You never know where your marketing adventures might take you. Give yourself the opportunity to think like an explorer.

“A company I worked at was having tremendous success in South Africa and Australia at one point. Some would say we should have focused our marketing in both of those countries in order to grow our already large customer bases there. But both of these we had already saturated,” Prosser says. “Just as importantly, neither of these were that much better for our business than other places. We had actually just launched an ad campaign in one country, and in the other, we had a couple big product advocates who recruited a number of their friends. In the end, our biggest markets ended up being the U.S. and Japan.”

Myth: Targeting is a questionable marketing technique
Reality: Engaged audiences perceive targeting as a mutual value-add

One question is always at the back of every marketer’s mind: “Am I crossing a line?” Targeting technology is powerful, but it’s also new terrain. Take one wrong turn, and your marketing transforms from helpful to spammy.

“I think the name itself has a negative connotation,” says Wil Anderson, head of marketing at technology infrastructure solutions provider Align. “When people think targeting, I think they tend to react as if they are being tracked and profiled for some nefarious reasons, which can be a valid response.”

Anderson points out, on the other hand, that targeting done right is a mutual value-add.

“Both the targeter and the targetee will benefit,” says Anderson.

The only way to tell is to create a feedback loop between your audiences and marketing program. You can even talk to them before or early on in your campaigns. Ask them whether your targeting approach seems questionable.

“We tend to do a lot of research and hold plenty of open and honest discussions about our approaches before we launch any marketing program,” says Anderson.

“A few years ago, we began experimenting with a targeting program on a social platform. We did a lot of research ahead of time and rolled out a very limited and conservative program. We noticed immediately that targeting individuals made us feel uncomfortable and since it was a transparent process, the one or two reactions we received underlined our discomfort. We quickly stopped the program and designed an updated social advertising initiative, with more tailored and transparent messaging, that has been in place and successful since.”

Your target audiences are on your side and are open to being direct and honest with you. Ask them what marketing messages they’d like to see and how comfortable they are with you targeting them. With the right feedback loops in place, targeting becomes a two-way street.

Final Thoughts

Marketers learn their best lessons from each other, which is why it’s important for you to keep your eyes and ears open. But don’t believe everything that you hear. Marketing is a discipline built on testing, and leaders regularly defy intuition. Challenge what you’ve learned, and keep exploring new targets.

Image credit: "Midway Games - Knock'ems" by Sarah Ackerman, Flickr http://ow.ly/QVfMu

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