The End of Targeting As We Know It

In a fundamental way, a target market is like a galaxy. Both seem like comprehensive, discrete entities, complete unto themselves, until we look closely. But ultimately, a galaxy is an aggregation of micro-phenomena – stars, planets, comets – each with its own discrete existences and properties.  

This is true of target markets as well. A target market is a personification of the audience we think is most likely to buy our product. But the reality is that all members of this “market” have unique characteristics, and they often respond to different stimuli. 

The New Age of Exploration 

Ultimately, then, if we really want to understand either a target market or a galaxy, we need to zoom in and focus on the individual objects and phenomena that compose it. The good news is that just as powerful telescopes and discoveries in physics have allowed us to see into the depths of our galaxy and predict cosmological events, advances in tracking, ID resolution and data science allow us to expand and refine our vision of our audiences, enabling us to understand – and thus better serve – the entire range of people who might be interested in what we have to offer. In this way, we significantly expand our potential universe of consumers, while improving every communication and interaction. 



Marketers have historically determined the most likely buyers for their brand by defining the demographic and behavioral patterns of their best customers. This has involved researching preferences, understanding passions, examining purchase motivations, and more.  

But there are known flaws with this approach. Specifically, we see time and again that stated purchase intent has been shown to have low correlation to actual sales. And the limiting nature of a lowest common denominator target segment is an even bigger problem. We know there are always people who don’t fit neatly into our target market, but who would still be interested in our product. 

The Expanding Universe 

Now that computational processing power and data science techniques can simultaneously make sense of the thousands – or millions, or billions – of data points we have about the members of our audience, we have opened up a much more robust form of marketing intelligence; one where there are really no limits to whom we market our products to. This enables us to move past the limitations of targeting to a handful of segments. With all of this data, why not open up the potential to acquire all audiences that we can responsibly identify, reach, and profitably convert? 

To test the idea of a single audience versus multiple audience approach, marketers will need to experiment more with pitting traditional research directly against behavioral data targeting.  While traditional research may show that an audience is performing well, automated testing with multiple undiscovered audiences may perform just as well – and often exponentially better.  

The Final Frontier 

As we move into what is conceivably the end game of marketing – a future where a target market is a segment of one, where virtually every individual can be precisely targeted with highly relevant messages (albeit anonymously and with appropriate permissions) – brands need to begin executing at the intersection of data science and creativity. This means rethinking the relationship between disciplines – branding, media, creative, production and data science – If we are to leverage our new, expanded consumer pool. To operate in this new world order, we need to recalibrate how all of our marketing disciplines adapt to enable the individualization (as opposed to personalization) of communications. 

For companies of all sizes, new audience identification modeling can generate significant new revenue.  The time to experiment with marketing to many audiences is now. By doing so, we can more deeply understand and better communicate with an entire human galaxy of individuals who find value in our brand.   



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