Why Losing Targeting Is A Good Thing For Advertisers

Major players in advertising continue to make announcements about the loss of data. There’s the death of the keyword, removal of tried-and-true match types, increased privacy restrictions, loss of audience targeting, the removal of cookies — the list goes on. This is bad, right?

It’s complicated. Personas have long been the holy grail of targeting. Take Jeff. Jeff is a 30– to-45-year-old father who loves the outdoors. We want to target him, but how? The answer has always been to build keyword lists and audience targeting matching the Jeff persona. But immediately, this limits our audience.

But, don’t we want to limit our audience? Here’s the reality: There are a finite number of Jeffs, and he might be expensive to capture. Your audience of 100,000 Jeffs is limited to 20,000 because, for most of them, you need to pay more than $100 to convert.

Brands should stop focusing on personas and instead turn to profitability. Is it really important for Jeff to convert if Megan, a single 56-year-old who loves the spa, is ready to?



This exemplifies why the changes Google is making to targeting actually do advertisers a favor. It puts targeting in the hands of the machines, which can find users faster and more accurately than marketers. That doesn’t mean marketers are out of a job. Actually, the opposite is the case. The key is leaning into what machines versus humans should be in charge of.

The machines know more about users than marketers do. The algorithms are watching what users are doing and categorizing them. This process will always take place, whether or not Google and other platforms share this information with advertisers.

Not only do machines have access to more information than marketers, but they act on information in real time. The fastest marketers can make decisions is a few hours after the searches and activity happened.

There’s still a lot that machines can’t do:

-- Machines don’t have the business information marketers have. They don’t know at which point a CPA sees diminished returns against profitability. Organizing and standing up offline data is an important role that a platform can’t achieve on its own. Platforms need the input from marketers on profitability and points of diminished returns to remain successful. 

-- A machine can’t make optimizations to your website. Leveraging automation doesn’t mean there is no optimization to be done, it simply changes what we’re optimizing. Rather than negative keywords and placements, marketers can focus on conversion rate optimization, site structure, and content.

-- Machines are self-attributing and don’t play nice together. Facebook and Google will never share information with each other. Google will always show analyses and data that prove why brands should spend more money with Google. Humans are needed for our expertise in multi-touch attribution.

 Ultimately, the loss of targeting information is a benefit. Instead of starting with narrow audiences and continuing to narrow said audience through cost per acquisition (CPA) and return on advertising spend (ROAS) goals, we can flip it.

By focusing first on CPA and ROAS goals, we can effectively scale to whichever user is meeting those goals. By letting go of targeting and focusing on results-based campaigns, brands can have the best of both worlds and drive both volume and efficiency.

Let go of your keyword and audience data. Let the machines show you who your “Jeff” is while they work their magic. But don’t forget where to maximize success.

8 comments about "Why Losing Targeting Is A Good Thing For Advertisers".
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  1. brian bakstran from none, April 14, 2021 at 6:14 p.m.

    The opposite of what is written here is the truth, OF COURSE..

    The thing many of you really, really smart people don't understand about Facebook and Google is their incredible targetting greased up the old creaky machinery of marketing by ALLOWING THE BUSINESS SPENDING THE MARKETING/AD DOLLARS to efficiently target the right people at the right time with the right offer.  KEYWORD - efficiently.  Businesses made the decisions.  Decisions based on much more transparent data, than we even now.  That is why things worked so well.  Putting the data in the hands of those actually spending the money.  A business owner is the best judge of how his finite capital is allocated.

    Alas, the phase we are entering now is Big Tech dominance on steroids, with Big Progressive Politics right there alongside picking the winners and losers. 

    The last three paragraphs of this article in particular, where the writer attempts to make a conclusion are among the most thoughtless I have ever read here.  And that is saying something with Media Post editorials.

    "letting go of targeting"... sure.

  2. Marshall McLuhan from MCLUHAN VIDEOS, April 14, 2021 at 6:35 p.m.

    the 'right offer' there's a lot of room for suggestion there, effecient keywords are effective, however, the gap will always remain, therein lies the new opportunities, which are impossible to determine no matter how 'well mined' the users patterns are

  3. Marshall McLuhan from MCLUHAN VIDEOS replied, April 14, 2021 at 6:36 p.m.

    an offer might be for the OED based on my own lack of editing skillz

  4. Joel Rubinson from Rubinson Partners, Inc., April 15, 2021 at 10:16 a.m.

    As a marketer, I would be happy if my competitors followed the advice of this article.  I'll take targeting and the 50% improvement in ROAS I have documented.

  5. Elyse Kane from Baruch College, April 15, 2021 at 12:07 p.m.

    I suggest all marketing people read Byron Sharp's "How Brands Grow."  This book shows, through a deep dive into data, that brands grow because of increases in penetration and increased penetration happens because more people are thinking of your brand in more places.  That means thay you need to get your message out to as many people as you can afford (within reason, of course).  Targeting should be used to enhance reach, but in many cases, as the author stated, targeting limits reach.  

    Also, there are a number of watchouts with targeting: 
    1)  many companies misdefine their targets
    2)  many companies define their targets too narrowly
    3)  people aren't static, they move in and out of targets

    Instead of limiting who you reach, targeting can be a great tool for ensuring that you are reaching the most people at the right time in the replace.

  6. Joel Rubinson from Rubinson Partners, Inc. replied, April 15, 2021 at 12:12 p.m.

    his ideas are quite destructive.  we have shown that the targeting proposed by the MMA out performs reach based planning by 50%

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, April 15, 2021 at 6:50 p.m.

    Elyse, I too like Prof. Byron Sharp's work.

    The key thing to note is that his book is called "How BRANDS grow".   His focus is on growing brands.   It is not focussed on immediate sales.   It's the difference between a long-term objective (brand growth) and a short-term objective (sales growth).

    Over the decades 'marketing' has shifted from annual (or longer) targets and KPIs to look more like 'sales' (which used to be two very different departments in a business) as demonstrated by 'marketing' having quarterly (and even monthly) 'goals'.

    As consumption grows the timelines shrink - hence that change.   But ask yourself, how many of the products still exist as a brand.

    The thing is BOTH have a purpose.   NEITHER are 'right' or 'wrong'.

  8. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, April 19, 2021 at 2:24 p.m.

    The author made a great argument for hiring more robots and algorithmic engineers - not for hiring marketing thinkers.

    Why not identify content that Jeff will like and when he raises his hand and says "I like this" offer him something to keep him engaged and share vs. hiding in the bushes trying to find him?

    And what is lacking in all of these articles is any type of messaging.  Doesn't matter if you can better target Jeff, if your message sucks, Jeff won't care.

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