Think Outside the Sweet Spot

One of online advertising's attributes that we all know and love is its targetability. We love being able to minimize waste and reach the people most likely to be interested in our product. But sometimes we get a bit overzealous with the targeting and, in an attempt to reach what we consider to be the "sweet spot" of the target audience, lose sight of what we're looking to online media to help us accomplish.

Over-targeting occurs in online media because it can - clients and agencies alike are enamored with the notion of cutting waste and online media offers so many targeting options that help us do that. Let's say we're dealing with a branding campaign for Lawnchopper Lawn Mowers, our hypothetical of the week.

Truth is, anyone who has a lawn and wants to avoid paying the high school kid down the street to cut the grass can be a prospect for Lawnchopper. But the demographic sweet spot tends to be men ages 35 to 54. Furthermore, we know that current Lawnchopper owners tend to own their own homes, have a household income of $35,000 to $100,000 and have at least two children in the home.



A cable buy for Lawnchopper is going to be planned, bought, and guaranteed against the demographic audience of men 35 to 54. We might pick cable networks and programs that tend to reach homeowners, such as HGTV, simply to give our ads more contextual relevance and focus on the sweet spot, but that's about the extent of the targeting that might be employed with cable.

Online media can help extend reach to the main target, but often that's not how we tend to use it. Instead, we concentrate on targeting criteria that can help us reach the sweet spot. After all, why would Lawnchopper talk only to men 35 to 54 when we can also target our ads to homeowners who fall into the appropriate household income bracket and who have expressed an interest in home improvement and maintenance products?

We line up a buy with a major home improvement portal that reaches six million unique users a month. We choose our placements carefully, filtering out people who make less than $35,000 or more than $100,000. Furthermore, we target our ads to the "lawn and garden care" section of the portal, helping us reach people in the appropriate context and mindset. We buy a million of these targeted impressions a month over a six month period.

Two weeks into the campaign, we learn that the portal has been able to deliver only 35,000 impressions with the targeting criteria we're using. We use our ad management system to run a frequency distribution report and find out that only 5,000 unique users have been reached by this activity to date. The campaign looks to be on track to under deliver significantly and generate ridiculous frequency against a tiny slice of potential Lawnchopper customers. What did we do wrong?

We did two things. First, we forgot what we were using online media for in the first place - to extend awareness of our brand to potential customers. Secondly, we made the common mistake of focusing too much of our effort on the sweet spot of the target, using it as a surrogate for a much larger audience. In short, in our zeal for reaching the people most likely to want a lawnmower right away, we've forgotten about the millions of other people who might be interested in a lawnmower.

How do we keep this from occurring in the first place?

We need to think about our online marketing campaigns as a series of concentric circles. The bull's-eye represents the sweet spot, while the rings around it represent other potential customers that might be less valuable to us than the folks in the bull's-eye, but are still worth going after. The outermost ring represents the true audience of people who can buy our product. To avoid over-targeting, we need to know the following about each concentric circle:

  • The size of the universe that can be reached within that circle
  • What it's worth to have the opportunity to speak to prospects within that circle
  • The appropriate balance of media weight for folks inside the circle and those outside it.

As campaigns run, it also helps to run regular campaign delivery and frequency distribution reports through your ad management system. An over-targeted campaign tends to under deliver guaranteed impressions and generate inappropriately high frequency against a smaller audience, so watch out for that. But most of all, keep your clients focused on the idea that your sweet spot is just that - a sweet spot - and that folks lying outside the bull's-eye are also capable of becoming loyal customers.

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