3.1 The Worst Targeting Mistake: Demographic vs Behavioral

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Having worked in LinkedIn’s Ad Operations not only taught me ins and outs of DoubleClick but also made me a witness to a multitude of mistakes marketers make when selecting their target audience for a social platform. However, the greatest and (sadly) most common of them was defining the target audience with demographic criteria.

“You kidding me? How else do you select an audience? Our campaign briefs are built on carefully selected buyer personas!” – I hear you say.

Of course, development of a target audience by crafting customer profiles and describing them in great detail is necessary and highly valuable. These profiles guided marketers in selecting the TV and publishers for decades . But… While Internet now allows you to target precisely the customers you have identified as per your brief, it’s a big mistake to do so (apart from geographical targeting, of course).

Many studies  (Jansen, Moore and Carman 2013Tucker 2011) as well as industry practice found behavioral and interest targeting to outperform a demographically targeted audience. Step into the user’s shoes: does your gender, age and education better predict the products and services you might be interested in rather than your interests?

Notably, there are always exceptions, for example if your communication or promotion identifies a specific demographic target: “Are you turning 45 this month? Take a 45% discount for face creme only at ****!”.

“Well alright but it’s a big move. Why not use both and get the best of both sides?”

Bad idea, because targeting works like funnel filters. If your target description might read “45 year old male proud and keen to fix and build things himself”. By narrowing further after your “bottle neck” (users with interest in DIY and fixing) to cut off females and users outside the 40-50 year range, you are likely to have an artificially small audience rather than interest specific one (“DIY building or fixing” community).

Also, it is highly important to note, that any kind of targeting criteria is likely to have a number of users who are unassigned to any of the values (because of a lot of different reasons). Therefore, even if you select ALL of the criteria options, you will be excluding a section of unassigned users who may be in your target based on other criteria. Less is more!

While it may seem like that leaves you without much targeting at all, it allows you to get find the specific interest/behavior that drivers your audience (and related influencers). Target users who follow your competitors. Instead of targeting the demography statistically most likely to own a cat, target people who have interest in cat care or particular cat breed. If you’re promoting sleeping pills, put them in front of people who are online at odd hours of night. After all, your friends may lie their age on social media, but not their interests.

Most importantly, be relevant and helpful to  your audience.

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4 responses to “3.1 The Worst Targeting Mistake: Demographic vs Behavioral

  1. Such a smart way to see targeting! I absolutely agree with your point of view. What I see in practice is that companies and marketeers target so narrow that it not only “cuts” your target audience but also rises price for your campaign. So using all those demographic +behavioral filters brings bad results.

    Thank you for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

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