Marketing On The Differences, Not The Averages

  • by , Featured Contributor, August 23, 2007
There's no shortage of news in the advertising world about highly targeted advertising developments. Today, for example, The Wall Street Journal led its Marketplace section with a story about Facebook's ongoing initiative to sell advertising on its user pages, targeted anonymously according to the personal interests and preferences that users and their friends have revealed on those pages. Want to target messages only to state university grads that live in urban areas and are avid runners? Facebook can help you now. Yesterday the news was about YouTube's new video ads.

This reminded me of a conversation that I had last week with one of the smartest direct marketers I know -- Bob DeSena of iO, and, earlier in his career, of Masterfoods and Time Warner. He said that the days of "marketing on the averages" -- talking to all consumers the same way, with least-common-denominator messages tailored for mass appeal -- are over. In the future, folks will focus instead on "marketing on the differences": talking to groups of consumers according to how they are different from other consumers, with separate benefit messages targeted to what makes them different and special from everyone else. Historically, only "averages" worked, since virtually all of our media was mass, not targeted.



No matter who wins in the new targeting wars, whether it is online with Facebook or Google/DoubleClick or Yahoo or Microsoft or AOL/, or whether it is in television with Comcast or Time Warner, or whether it is on "three screens" with ATT or Verizon, one thing is clear: The way that marketers advertise and communicate to their prospects and customers is going to change dramatically over the next five years.

This is going to require very different ways of thinking, from client marketers to ad agency account management, from creative to media planning and buying. It will also change the development of publishers' Web sites, and how they package and sell their inventory.

In most cases today in the online advertising world, folks are still talking about averages, not differences. Even when you talk about targeted audience segments, people tend to talk more about the "sameness" of the segments, rather than what makes those audiences different and special from everyone else. It is those differences that identify those audiences, and through which they probably identify themselves. It is those differences that probably mark how and where a segment would prefer that marketers communicate with it.

Packing up the shotguns and taking down the rifles with the telescopic sites will be disruptive at best. This is pretty upside-down thinking for many in our business. I don't think that the transition from marketing on averages to marketing on differences is going to be very smooth. What do you think?

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