A Practical Guide to Audience Targeting

Imagine you’ve been tasked with creating a digital marketing campaign for a new healthy snack bar. You need to reach women ages 35-55 who are interested in a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps these women have visited yoga websites or purchased multivitamins or live in one of the nation’s most athletic cities, like Denver. How do you find these women online? Audience targeting, of course. Audience targeting is as simple to define as its two words; essentially, it’s targeting an audience or a specific group of people. For those who want a more detailed definition, it’s using data points available online to target segments of the population based on their demographics, interests and behaviors.

Types of Audience Targeting

There are various ways to target audiences using both first-party and third-party data. Here are some of the most common ways to reach a specific audience:

Audience: You can segment your audience in several different ways – demographics, interests, and purchase behavior.

Creative: The possibilities for A/B testing are endless – call to action, logo placement, image background color, button size & color, offer and messaging. For a true test, all elements of the creative need to stay the same except for comparison being tested.

Timing: When your message is received can impact how effective it will be. You can test out different times of day and different days of the week to see when your customers will be most receptive.

Technology: What technology is your audience using to view your ads? Optimizing for device, browser and operating system will make sure that you’re reaching your audience where they access the internet.

Geography: Geography seems straightforward – only advertise where you sell; however, some areas might be more responsive than others. Comparing can help you figure which regions perform best.

Media Mix & Targeting: Testing tactics or channels will show how different types of targeting are resonating. How does behavioral targeting perform versus site targeting? How does social compare to your display, video, and audio channels?

Finding Your Target Audience

Now that you know what audience targeting is, you might be wondering exactly how you find your target audience. Your target audience is the audience that is going to buy your product or service and become a loyal customer. If you have an established customer base but are new to audience targeting, you just need to profile your current customers. If you are a starting a new business or launching a new product, you’ll need to define your audience. Here are some suggestions on ways to find your target audience:

Profiling Current Customers

Analyze your customer data – Do you have a CRM system with customer records or a loyalty program? Depending on the information you’ve collected, you can comb through it to find trends on customer location, age or gender. You can also gather audience data from other online tools, like using Google Analytics data to find out your site’s audience, or Amazon data to find out who is buying your products on Amazon.

Survey your customers – If you have a customer base but don’t know much about them beyond an email address, try surveying them to find out some basic demographic and psychographic info. You can use SurveyMonkey or a similar tool to create a survey, and then offer your customers a small incentive to fill it out.

Defining a New Audience

Ask yourself questions – At the core of determining your ideal audience, you first need to define your product or service. What problems does your product solve? Then, ask yourself who will benefit from it? For example, a health food company has debuted a new gluten-free snacks line. They are offering an audience of gluten-free and health-conscious consumers a new option for snacks that fit both their dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices.

Use research tools – Marketing research tools can be useful for uncovering industry-level audience trends. Tools like eMarketer, Simmons, IBIS World and AudienceView can provide demographic and behavioral data by vertical to help you understand overall consumer patterns for your industry.

Engage a market research firm – Investing in professional market research can help you to develop a detailed audience profile. It’s not the most economical option, but if you are rebranding or planning a big product launch, it could be worth partnering with a firm that specializes in creating audience dossiers.

Audience Targeting in Programmatic

Audience targeting has always existed. Think about the location targeting that’s inherent to outdoor advertising. Posters and billboards target an audience that exists in a specific location, but outside of that location, no one will see the ad. Demographic targeting has been around for a long time as well and is still the primary way to buy audiences in traditional media channels like print, TV and radio.

The digital nature of programmatic advertising lends itself to some unique types of audience targeting that didn’t exist previously, like retargeting, people-based marketing and look-alike targeting. You know how when you are searching for a flight, you see ads that show you deals for the exact flight you were just looking for? That’s retargeting. You can target users because they visited your site and performed certain actions, or because they viewed your creative. It used to be that retargeting was only available through digital advertising because of the tracking mechanisms involved, but traditional advertising is catching up. With advanced TV, we can now track users as they watch TV on streaming and on-demand services and serve them retargeted ads.

People-based marketing is another tactic that’s unique to programmatic advertising. You can upload your offline CRM data into an advertising platform and segment your audience in various ways. Let’s use a pet store as an example. You can segment users who are frequent shoppers and encourage them to sign up for a rewards program or offer them a coupon for being a loyal shopper. You can also cross-sell by targeting dog food shoppers and showing them offers to buy dog toys, or showing cat litter shoppers offers for cat food. The possibilities are truly endless when you slice and dice your customer data to create custom segments that are relevant to your business.

Exclusion targeting, also known as suppression targeting, is another way to refine your audience with people-based marketing. With exclusion targeting, you can choose audience segments you don’t want to reach out to and make sure they are blocked from seeing your ads. For example, customers who only buy dog products probably don’t have a cat, so you might want to add your dog audience as a suppression target to your cat-products-only audience campaigns and vice versa.

Finally, look-alike targeting is a tactic that’s also easily available through programmatic. Look-alike targeting allows you to create a mirror audience that shares the same characteristics as your first-party data. You can create audiences that are similar to your retargeting audience, or audiences that are just like your customers in your CRM data. This targeting tactic lets you expand your audience and reach new people who have a higher likelihood of being interested in your products because they are just like the audience that already is.

Real World Results

So does audience targeting really work? Yes! We’ve seen great results across countless campaigns employing audience targeting. Our campaign for a cable marketing group was particularly successful. We employed a variety of tactics on this campaign, but one of the most effective was people-based marketing through Facebook, using the client’s offline mover data. We also created look-alike audiences based on the offline data. Our campaign resulted in an impressive 79% drop in our eCPL and 80% increase in leads over a 12-month period.

Audience targeting is a great way to reach your desired audience. Now that you’ve got the basics down, learn about how to expand your audience targeting.