Commentary

The Campaign for Bipartisan Targeting

We all know the story. A marketer wants to get their brand message out to the right consumers. They ask their creative agency to help determine the appropriate audience and messaging, and thus the agency conducts ethnographic research that digs into the brand and peoples' relationship with their brand. Afterward, the creative agency determines that the brand is all about "authenticity" (for this example) and the prime target is people who value authenticity.

The agency then develops a beautiful, captivating and authentic campaign that the marketer knows will hit the mark. This effort has success written all over it -- or so it would appear.

At this point, most media buyers and planners are probably wondering where they enter the picture. The answer: too late.

Things get rocky when the campaign is brought to the media agency and they start asking questions they need to answer to effectively plan and buy media. How big is the target? Are people who value authenticity concentrated in any particular geographic region? What type of media do they use? What is its impact? What are the right vendors and properties we should be reaching out to in order to communicate this campaign?

This is where marketers often hit a wall typical of one-sided targeting: the challenge of planning and buying media against soft and vaguely defined target definitions, particularly those that are unsubstantiated with any type of quantitative rigor.

We all know the problem is not that media agencies are not willing to compromise or think beyond demographics, because most media agencies have a consumer context planning or connections planning practice to guide their approach to defining targets in rich and holistic ways.

Marketers can develop brilliant creative ads guided by mindsets and value systems, and plan for media placements that complement those ads. But it is extremely challenging to accurately define, size, find, reach and measure those consumers in the media landscape on any sort of scale that will improve your bottom line and give you proven return on investment.

This is why I propose bipartisan targeting. In the simplest terms, it is a process in which both the creative and media agency have a seat at the targeting table -- from the very beginning -- but by no means should that be the extent of it. It involves media and creative agencies working closely together -- along with the client -- to collaboratively define and understand the target audience with rigor and accuracy.

Bipartisan targeting ensures that marketers develop targets that are actionable from a media point of view, and clearly point the way to vendor and media properties that we use to drive the campaign -- yet are still rich enough to inspire creative development.

The challenge is that creative agencies have historically been at the helm of most marketers' consumer targeting efforts, taking the lead and often engaging in discussions that don't account for the needed perspective of media planners. Media agencies, on the other hand, have traditionally been given the task of translating these predetermined targets into syndicated terms so they can plan and buy against them.

This is no one's fault; it's simply the default. And maybe for some clients, it even still works. But for many, it often results in missed opportunities. What good is the most brilliant ad if it doesn't reach the right people? As a media professional, I know that I'm probably preaching to the choir, but it's important that we all collectively push for change toward this collaborative process.

In today's economic climate, marketers can't afford to separate the conversations between media and creative agencies, and we need to make that clear. In order to launch insightful, effective communications plans that maximize clients' dollars, we must have a clear picture of the person who matters most from day one -- the consumer -- from all angles.

After all, is it possible to differentiate the authentic consumers from those who are not? And if it is, are there really enough authentic consumers to guarantee that a marketer's ad dollars are being put to good use? Without an allied partnership on targeting between media and creative agencies, the messaging is likely to fall flat -- or simply to miss its target altogether.

We're in an economy where the default doesn't cut it anymore; bottom line, every client's ROI has to improve or they won't be satisfied. Now more than ever, it's time to question the status quo, and a marketer's approach to understanding their consumers should be no exception. It's time to give it a go and reap the rewards of bipartisan targeting.

Many marketers may even find that for their brand, a dialogue and targeting process that utilizes mutual interactivity and encourages teamwork between media and creative agencies will bring together the best of both worlds.

The political news reveals that bipartisan progress can be a challenging adjustment, but reaching across the aisle is worth a shot now more than ever.

1 comment about "The Campaign for Bipartisan Targeting".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, October 9, 2009 at 4:43 a.m.

    An insightful post Kathy, thank you. Everyone knows that media demographics are proxies for client targets, but I'd like to share a story of when things go very wrong.

    The suit took the brief because he felt that "the media strategist didn't understand the brand or the target well enough".

    When the written brief was distributed by the suit the target audience was ... (to paraphrase) ... "current consumers of the brand (both frequent and infrequent purchaser), any lapsed users of the brand, and any potential future users of the brand".

    However, when this was translated into an 'All People 18+' media buy, the suit couldn't understand why the buy couldn't be more targeted.

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