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APG Noisy Thinking | Do we need target audiences any more?

In a bold and, as it turned out, rather Marmite experiment, we held the first Noisy in which the speakers spoke and the audience spoke back. We were responding to previous feedback asking for more interaction. We also wanted to to encourage people to think about the practical application of what they were hearing.

Some of you loved it. Some really, really didn’t. And someone brilliantly evoked the spasm of horror at the very idea of interaction.

The workshop element was fabulously awkward. A terrible idea, executed poorly... But was all the better for it! It turned out having a brief chat with those sitting next to you was rather nice, who knew!? Thanks for putting on a great event.

So there was obviously the kernel of something that works. We’ll think again about how to do interaction that is fabulous. And try and execute it properly. But we won’t do it every time.

Anyway, target audiences. We wanted to understand more about different kinds of thinking and practice and try and evaluate their usefulness and application. So we invited a client, a researcher, a media strategist, a tech strategist and a strategist turned CEO turned entrepreneur each to give us 5 condensed minutes on the subject. All had roots in brand planning.

Andy Davidson is MD of Flamingo. He’s done 50 target audience related projects in the last few years so he drew on those to pull out some tips and pitfalls, and truths about the importance of targeting for behavior. ‘Biscuit eaters everywhere’ is neither incisive nor helpful. You have to be really specific to influence human behavior. And in that context some of the biggest hits are written to an astonishingly precise and small target audience; for example Star Wars aimed at kids who ‘love medieval histories in space, without irony or embarrassment’ = 20 year global franchise.

Creative targets are very important because they force a brand to nail its colours to the mast so people know what it’s for. But you shouldn’t confuse your creative target with your actual target (of course Mercedes want anyone who can, to buy their car).

He used a startlingly beautiful video metaphor of flocks of starlings to demonstrate that you can’t think about people as target audience in just one category – you need to understand all the other stuff they do so that you see your brand or category in the context of a whole life. The ‘cyclist’ in London is also a pedestrian, a tube user, a driver and Uber fanatic. If you can take a step back and really understand the context you might have a better idea of where they are going.

And if you’re in doubt the key is propensity: How much you think they can be influenced in their behavior.

So Andy’s answer is yes; be precise and specific and go for behavior.

Frank Durden did 18 years in advertising and has just completed 18 months as a client CMO. He learned very fast about how differently clients think about target audience when he got up to address his first board meeting with a clear picture of their target audience only to met by blank faces.

Where agencies work with qualitative insight, clients care about quantitative data and addressable markets, a number that you can sell to. How many people will buy it? How much money will we make? Agencies talk in generalities about how people think and feel and clients want precision. If your product has a return rate of 10% and it goes up to 13% it can wipe out your margin.

Agencies love to talk about possibilities. But that’s of no use in the board room where paradoxically clients are looking for as much certainty as possible in a world in a world that is less and less certain. So probability becomes the key, as accountants can factor that in. The conversation between agencies and clients needs to be more about a kind of co-operation in which the agency really understands who people are, the client deals in numbers and the potential for conversion and the agency develops strategies to achieve that conversion.

Frank’s answer is yes, but remember that your client is playing another numbers-driven game that you have to fit into to win.

Verra Budimlija was a creative planner for years until she was seduced by the life of the media strategist and as CSO of MEC has never looked back. She started off by addressing the old idea that you push from consideration through to purchase via the funnel, and noting that now we think about purchase journeys as being on a continuum. We know that people are constantly forming opinions about brands through active and passive stages.

So do we need a target audience? Well yes and no; it depends where you are in the journey and the passive and active stages need different approaches. The passive phase could be 5 years in which you stay connected with your market as broad audience connection: Nivea and X Factor or Colgate 2 minute tales for kids.

The active stage is all about spotting people who are in the market and decoding their behavioural signals. Nationwide market mortgages on Rightmove; Homeserve sell emergency insurance so they go to E-bay and look for people, clearly worried about an impending boiler disaster who are buying radiator keys.

Verra’s answer is yes and no. Depends where you are in the journey.

Will Whalley was formerly a strategist at AMVBBDO and is now Brand Planner at Google, focusing mainly on YouTube. Performance and direct clients come to Google and want defined target audiences. Brand clients go to Google wanting the Byron Sharp classification of target audience as all category buyers/low loyals or largest addressable audience. Google used to describe all category buyers demographically but the combination of signals and tech allows you to go bigger rather than smaller - and outside the boundaries of what you thought you were looking for.

The notion of target audience for Google and specifically Youtube is clear:

  • Don’t go for specific audiences, but all category buyers

  • Don’t presume targeting will take you smaller – it can go bigger

  • Digital is better broadcast; not anti broadcast

So Will’s answer is yes – and go big, and go digital broadcast.

Lucy Jameson was a CSO and then CEO of Grey and is currently spending a metaphorical year either gardening or in the wilderness, as she prepares to launch a new agency. In the meantime she’s been working with start-ups who are obsessed by performance marketing – least waste, micro targets and people who are already in the market, risking endless re-targeting of ever smaller groups.

Her plea is to forget all of that and go wide and embrace waste:

  1. ‘Waste’ works. To get growth you have to increase penetration.

  2. Brands are built over years not quarters – or over a lifetime. Think about the biggest audience you can.

  3. An algorithm can’t predict what you are going to buy. You eliminate serendipity if you stick to the maths.

  4. Waste creates ‘bandwagon effects’. Go for as many people are possible and get other people to copy them. Make your brand really visible. If you stand in the street and look up, so will everyone else eventually.

  5. Waste helps us express our tribal identities and work as shared reference points, and we often buy for the extrinsic reaction. BMW anyone?

So Lucy’s answer is yes, and the bigger and trashier, the better.

We’ll be posting the presentations here and the videos on YouTube as soon as we get the films, so you can see the evening in all its interactive glory.


See more from our 2017 Noisy Thinking here

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