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5 ways to mix art and science in ad targeting

David Kopp
5 ways to mix art and science in ad targeting David Kopp

Reaching a specific audience online can be complicated, challenging and sometimes frustrating. You want to maximize your ad spend and ensure you're sending the right message to the right audience at the right time -- all while working to achieve your campaign objectives. Easier said than done.

In our experience at Yahoo, though, successful marketers know the five "rights" that are key to successfully targeting your desired audience and meeting your objectives.

To help illustrate, let’s imagine you’re launching a new hybrid SUV. The target audience is environmentally-conscious, multi-child families that require a large, yet comfortable, automobile.

The right goals
Know what you want to achieve with your online campaign upfront. Is your goal brand-oriented (e.g., building brand awareness), transaction-oriented (e.g., driving a user to a desired action), or is it a combination of both? Be clear about your campaign goals as they will inform your choice of ad targeting tools.

Marketing a new hybrid SUV requires creating brand awareness and advocacy among target buyers. It also requires driving prospects to a dedicated landing page where they can sign up to receive more information about the vehicle.

To achieve these goals online, you want to strike the right balance between audience reach and message frequency. The strategy here is to reach the largest number of people in the target audience enough times (a variety of contexts helps) that a reasonable percentage will click through to the landing page and sign up for more information. Make sure that you work with a partner and/or ad network that has both a large reach and a high frequency rate so that you can ensure your message gets across to your desired audience.

The right target audience
Know the characteristics of the audience you are trying to reach. Be clear on the geographic, demographic, and behavioral attributes that best define your target audience. The benefits of geographic and demographic targeting are probably self-evident. Advanced behavioral targeting solutions have several benefits, though. Some behavioral targets enable you to reach audiences that have expressed purchase intent for products like yours; other behavioral targets can mirror the customer attributes identified by your market research, whether it is life-stages or interests.

In this case, you are seeking relatively large families that are environmentally-conscious. Certainly, geographic and demographic targeting can help. However, the ability to behaviorally target individuals based on demonstrated interests is one of the key benefits of advertising online.

Behavioral targeting companies can help advertisers reach their target audiences inside of defined behavioral segments, such as "Parenting and Children," "Green Enthusiasts," and "Purchase Intent: Hybrid Vehicles." These segments are filled with highly-qualified individuals whose online usage patterns allow you to target attitudinally-aligned consumers, as well as consumers with demonstrated purchase intent.

A note on behavioral targeting: Not all BT is created equally. Only a few companies do comprehensive predictive modeling. Many companies rely on a simple clustering method of segmentation, based on a user visiting a few pages of similar content. Be sure you ask your provider how they develop their behavioral targeting segments and what data they use to understand a user's interest level in a specific product category.

The right success metrics
Ensure that the metrics you are using to define success are aligned with the overall goals of your campaign. If your key objective is to drive online purchases, CTR (click-through rate) is not an appropriate metric to measure success. Make sure the metrics you are tracking truly provide a realistic picture of the efficacy of your campaign.

The goal in this case is to drive awareness and advocacy for the company and the specific car. Additionally, the company wants to convert a certain percentage of users by encouraging them to sign up for more information on the manufacturer’s site. Thus, focusing on multiple metrics is required to get a good sense of the efficacy of the campaign. To understand brand impact, they want to look at total user reach, average frequency, CTR, and visitors/repeat visitors to the site. This will provide you with a high-level view of the engagement you are receiving from your target audience for the campaign.

In addition, you'll want to look at the halo effect of a brand campaign for those that have seen the messages, but don't necessarily click on the ad. Studies have shown that CTR alone is not the best way to measure brand efficacy in online marketing. By using tracking pixels, not only can you identify click-to-site conversions, you can track users who were exposed to the creative, did not click on the ad, but did end up coming to your site. Similarly, online surveys from companies like Dynamic Logic can effectively measure the impact of your campaign on key brand metrics like aided/unaided awareness and propensity to purchase.

The right creative
Targeting capabilities allow you to customize your creative to a specific audience. Behavioral targeting helps you to avoid wasting impressions with generic ads when you know that a particular user has already expressed an interest in your product or service. Geo or demographic targeting can enable a locally relevant message (e.g., a local dealer) or a gender-relevant message (promoting different features of the minivan to men versus women). Take advantage of the opportunity to personalize the marketing message to increase the impact and effectiveness of the campaign.

Another benefit of online advertising is the ability to provide sequential messaging to a target audience. Your first ad can speak to the environmental benefits, your next to affordability, and a third to the family-friendly nature of the automobile. All can communicate the overall brand message and offer the desired call-to-action, making for a powerful campaign. Keep in mind that utilizing creative techniques like these increase the importance of having a media plan with enough frequency to get your message across.

The right approach
There are many ways, including contextual, demographic, geographic, and behavioral, to target an audience online. It's important for you to experiment with different approaches and see which works best for reaching and converting your target audience. Layering successful approaches (e.g., behavioral and demographic targeting) allows you to better pinpoint your audience. Learn what works for you and then refine and optimize your online campaigns from there.

Online targeting is more art than science -- but the combination of art (creativity in approaches) and science (test and learn) is the key to success.

David Kopp is the senior director of ad product strategy at Yahoo.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Joseph "Giuseppe" Zuccaro

2009, February 25

Very timely since your former Sales leader said there's currently too much "science" and not enough "art" in marketing.

You have provided a good framework to find balance for both disciplines; but I still say more "science" is needed:



Joe "Giuseppe" Zuccaro.