It Takes More than Big Data To Target Customers

Agencies, and media buyers in particular, today live in a data-driven, real-time world. RTB platforms crunch billions of data points to let media buyers quickly buy audiences – targeting digital campaigns in real-time to micro-segments likely to be interested in a particular product or message.

It seems everyone in digital advertising bows down to Big Data. Data is the new creative! Data will solve all our problems! Data will bring us one-to-one marketing at last!

Buying audiences based on complex data analysis is clearly a huge step forward in helping brands understand and connect with their core customer constituencies, but it’s not enough to let the machines do all the work.

Even in today’s Big Data ad world, “persona” work is still critical. Slicing and dicing data to understand the characteristics of a target segment gives a fairly broad view of that segment – man aged 25-40, in-market to buy a car, aspires to buy and can afford a Mercedes. But it takes real cognitive thinking to consider cultural nuances, pre-conceived image perceptions, current trends, influencing factors, and generational mind-sets to really understand key “personas.”

That same man shopping for a car may be concerned about global warming and thus interested in fuel efficiency; he may have a young child and place safety high on his list. This person would respond to a different campaign than the standard “audience” of a 25-40 year-old, high-income man in the market for a Mercedes.

So what steps can a media planner take to go beyond the dataset to understand their core customer?

*Tap into hearts and minds

Persona work involves understanding the physical characteristics of a consumer (age, demographics, past purchases, click behavior) and their needs and wants on emotional and rational levels. When building a core audience, look at connection points that bring together the head, heart and wallet. A consumer’s online behavior and demographics (digital shopability) may show that he wants to buy a Mercedes, but his head may be telling him to buy a minivan for the kids, and his wallet dictates he should buy an economy car.

With those nuances in mind, you can target an ad for a fully tricked out minivan to this person – with ad messaging that taps into his complex psyche without sacrificing features – instead of targeting him with luxury car ads based on a “data set.”

The Toyota Sienna “Daddy Like” campaign was brilliant in understanding the hearts and minds of who really buys minivans – wistful, used-to-be-hip dads who want to be respected by their peers and the key influencer in their life: their wife or significant other.

*Focus on 5 trigger points

Learn how a core audience interacts with five key triggers: music, sports, technology, fashion, and lifestyle. When defining an audience, you should look at how a target consumer engages with these things. By grouping personas based on their feelings and responses to these five key triggers, you’ll come up with distinct audiences that respond to distinct messages.

Understand the connective thread of their lifestyle, as well as their habits and aspirations around brand and product choices. By looking only at data sets, you might define an audience as “young active woman 18-22,” but looking at how this audience responds to the four other trigger points can deliver a clearer picture of her self-perception as a former athlete motivated by sport, instead of a young woman motivated by beauty.

*Be authentic.

When you set out to do persona work, one truth holds true: be authentic in how you approach people and be authentic to the origin of the brand that you are marketing. No matter how precisely you define audiences, consumers don’t appreciate being “marketed to.

Consumers will reward brands that take the time to instead understand their needs/wants and motivations, values and cultural differences. Good persona work makes the difference between building trust or building doubt. Operate from transparency, relevancy and credibility to solve real problems or deliver exciting aspiration for the consumer.

Even in a big data world, persona work allows agencies and brands to do their best creative work – creating campaigns that resonate with people on a personal level. Data may be the glue that holds together digital advertising, but machines can’t yet understand human emotions. A great brand campaign speaks directly to what makes us human.

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