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We are lucky to be working in the digital industry as it provides the most targetable and measurable medium yet in terms of marketing.

With the ability to combine first and third party data, bring offline data into play and combine it with granular behavioural and audience data (such as pages visited, searches made, content viewed, and time spent on certain activities), very specific audience segments can be defined, built and reached.

If you want to build an audience of wealthy families who live in Scotland, are interested in curling and are currently reading regularly reviews on executive cars, as well as looking for quotes on car insurance for example, these people can be identified and targeted accordingly.

Data Management Platforms (DMPs), or Audience Management Platforms (AMPs) if you prefer, provide the technology to collect, store, interrogate and then build audiences at a hyper-targeted level to support the needs of advertisers by providing the specific target audiences they wish to reach.

All this sounds very positive, but when looking at this in the cold light of day, is this really what brand marketers need and is it helping to improve advertising?

Is it beneficial or are we just becoming more efficient in reaching a cookie pool? We can offer them hyper-targeting but can we support this with the metrics they need to highlight success to them? 

All too often, with the wealth of targeting criteria available online, it feels as if we are simply throwing data at marketers on the basis that something may stick, rather than going back to basics and understanding what they need. 

However, just because there is the ability to do something, it does not mean it is necessarily the best course of action. If we go back to the fundamentals of direct marketing, then any segment needs to be distinct, identifiable, able to be reached and economically viable (i.e. large enough) to be worth targeting.

If you cannot execute a segment efficiently at that level, it may be best to ignore it and focus on defining something more broadly. 

Take for example Experian, a company with more than 25 years in developing consumer classification systems across the world.

Mosaic UK, built from over 850m input sources and more than 400 variables, breaks the country’s population into 67 different demographic types that make up 15 broad lifestyle groups. While they could create many more segments, they recognise the fact that too many options will be likely to put marketers off.

While people prefer some degree of choice, too much choice can be demotivating and unnecessary. Any good restaurant will have a relatively limited menu to make decisions easier (and to help manage stock control and cost at the same time).

Meanwhile, those which seem, on the surface, to be more attractive by having a larger menu and more choice actually make it much harder and more confusing for diners to make a decision. It’s exactly the same with audience segments – too many become unwieldy, confusing and often unnecessary. 

When it comes to Mosaic, the important thing is that segments are robust AND can be applied across multiple channels, be this direct marketing, email marketing, online or TV.

From a brand perspective, marketers want to have consistent target audiences that they can reach cross-channel: while online can drive the development of hyper-targeted segments, it becomes very difficult to translate and replicate these same audiences across other environments, making this benefit less attractive to a marketer.     

When it comes to targeting, online can learn much from the offline world about how online segmentation should evolve and be packaged into simple, yet scalable, audience segments.

Marketers should be targeting segments that are selectable and viable (i.e. profitable) while ensuring their desired audiences can be reached across all campaign mediums they use. If we can address these needs to help drive online targeting, perhaps we can make online a more relevant environment for brands and thus further encourage them to embrace digital advertising. 

Anthony Katsur

Published 11 October, 2013 by Anthony Katsur

Anthony Katsur is Chief Executive Officer at Maxifier and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Scottie Leonard

Hey Anthony,

Such a nice blog! I truly believe that as a marketer, targeting is the most essential factor. And through your blog, it is clearer why we should target to the specific segments. Like you said desired audiences can reach across all the online campaign through targeting, I totally agree to it. Thanks for this article.

about 3 years ago


Dave Clark

Suspect i may be about to say the obvious - so sorry in advance! I enjoyed the blog because it made me think - then I sort of got to a place which went - don't we have to have flexible, adaptive products and services that reflect this ability to build on great targeting.

From my personal perspective I've no problem with a smart company targeting grumpy old men with no disposable income, living in the countryside and a hatred of University fees...but I want the product/service to also reflect this segment - not just the fact they've found me.

I don't want a great intro and well structured "David - we appreciate for many people life.....then - here have one of our standard off the shelf gizmo's that we've had a half hearted attempt to pretend is relevant by changing the colour of the box...."

every now and again I worry that marketing chaps forget they're also deeply ingrained in product/service innovation and development - so finding me is one thing....making me love your product and services is another thing entirely :-)...in a world of mass customisation I wan't a product/service that reflects my needs and drives - so micro segmentation is fine as long as the rest of the organsation can handle it???

about 3 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Group Analytics & Digital Insight at Thomas Cook Group AirlinesEnterprise

I think there's a fine line here - while Mosaics are sufficient for some brands, there are others where they don't really benefit them at all so it becomes essential to create custom segments in order to target people who are in some way more relevant to the brand.

Also, while I can understand the need for large enough groups to target, the criteria has got to be specific enough to actually help them tailor the product to you. Have you ever looked at what Mosaic profile you would be classified under and whether any of the associations with this group actually match your own?

For me the problems Digital hits are more of their own making than down to the information that is available. In order to run an effective advertising campaign we need to:

* Target the right audience (something even with all this data is so regularly done wrong - No ISME, me looking at Nike trainers on your site does not mean I would like to buy Hairspray the movie or a pair of ladies tight jeans!)

* Reach them at the right time (if I'm in the middle of something, I'm unlikely to want to consider buying another product. Radio, TV and even Press and Outdoor buyers do this so well and yet online we seem to forget that people aren't switched on to advertising 24/7)

* Engage / interest this customer (which means we first and foremost need to actually get their attention and then secondly once we have we need to keep it and intrigue them - how many online display ads you've seen would you actually say caught your attention / provided a lasting memory? Part of the problem here is designs, the rest of formats but unfortunately neither side seems willing to develop these into something worthwhile...[I'm excluding VOD here])

* Drive an action (now I'm not suggesting that they need to jump straight into your booking engine and spend all their hard earned cash but brands or digital creatives seem to forget that the next step is to actually take a customer through to some content that will further their interest in the brand and begin to move them to a point of consideration)

* Track what these customers do next (for me this is about moving away of the incessant belief that if someone was served an ad they are now cookied as 'engaged' and if they convert then result, there's another sale and instead looking at what they do next, what has our Display activity driven in terms of changes in customer behaviour (versus how they were interacting before they saw the Display if we'd seen them before))

Ultimately, if we start to get these things right, irrespective of the size of our audience, large or small, we can start to justify a branding budget online.

Unfortunately, in order to do that, companies need to be willing to completely change the way they look at their media, particularly Display and that requires resource so who knows how many companies will actually get there!

about 3 years ago

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