Audience selection and clarity in targeting

In this new reality, static segmentations are often no longer appropriate, and advertisers should consider a more dynamic persona-based approach that accounts for the shifting nature of audiences.

Prudent audience identification along with a shrewd and creative application of targeting strategies have always been critical component parts of any marketing plan, improving both the effectiveness and efficiency of media investment.

Getting it right can significantly impact performance of activities, particularly as the opportunity to precisely target has grown in recent years. The emergence of COVID-19, however, will have significantly impacted many of the audience and targeting dynamics most brands used for consumer engagement pre-pandemic. In short, audience segmentation and targeting approaches may need to be urgently reassessed in light of the seismic changes we have recently seen.

Understanding what the key dynamics are, and acting on them, will be critical for business success in the recovery stage. Times of crisis create a sense of flux for consumer behaviour and we need to be engaged and empathetic to the new realities many will find themselves in. Against this backdrop we should also be enthused, as the coming months – probably years – will be the most interesting times for new audience understanding and insights for a generation.

Look for the ‘differences which matter’

To capitalise on new opportunities amongst the wide range of available signals, we need a clarity and structure to frame our thinking. Byron Sharp quite eloquently states that when it comes to audience strategies we are looking for “the differences which matter”. These are the differences that exist between people that, when applied judiciously, create cohorts that allow us to efficiently deliver the most motivating communications to drive business and brand growth.

With this in mind, we advise our people to consider these differences and subsequently construct audiences through a series of interrelated parameters:

  • Identity – such as age, gender, family composition, economic status
  • Needs – such as excitement, safety or freedom
  • Context – such as the location, time or day or day of week

The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound impact on all three but at differing rates, influenced by category and market conditions.

It’s important to develop a thorough appreciation of all three before making strategic decisions. For example, changes in employment prospects are already impacting economic confidence and in times of crisis spending is inevitably scaled back. But developing a nuanced understanding of audiences combining spending power, attitudes towards thrift or need for gratification, and perceptions of your product category as a luxury or an essential will result in better audience opportunities being identified and more nuanced targeting decisions to be made.

It’s vital to make decisions from a solid foundation. Using the relevant analytic tools at your disposal will allow you to understand how dynamics are shifting at a brand and category level, based on daily data collection of consumer opinion across all major markets. From this understanding of the new consumer reality you can then make an informed decision to modify existing audiences or create new definitions based on dynamics which you’ve uncovered.

Understanding changes to targeting criteria

The next step is to get an idea of how the key criteria you were previously using for targeting have changed. Some may have disappeared (e.g. if for some reason you were targeting people who go to the pub – a contextual targeting parameter), some may have to be modified, and some may be the same as before (if not stronger). Dining out has shifted to home gastronomy, gym workouts have shifted to home yoga classes. The needs may remain, but how and where they’re sated will have changed.

To illustrate: before the restrictions were introduced, several categories had developed targeting strategies around health, sociable moments, sustainable behaviours and family priorities. Health and family priority signals are now dominant but sociable moments still exist if you can find them accurately, and the conversation around sustainability has only been paused momentarily.

In addition to evolving existing audience strategies, it is also an opportune time to adapt the way we create audiences to reflect the human experience. An empathetic understanding of your consumers is needed to ensure your brand engages them in the right places with the right message.

What these months of isolation have illustrated, perhaps more than anything else, is how much we humans crave variety in our lives. This means the same person can have vastly different identities and needs depending on the situation, and so can find themselves belonging to two or even three audiences depending on which mode or role they are in.

In this new reality, static segmentations are often no longer appropriate and the development of a more dynamic persona-based approach that accounts for the shifting nature of audiences needs to be considered.

It’s perfectly possible to be a family-minded individual one moment and an exercise fanatic in another moment – our approach to targeting needs to reflect that. During the crisis, it’s our belief that this dynamic nature of audiences will increase even more as context, need state and even identity factors will become more fluid. We can probably all recognise the ability to be pessimistic and cautious one moment and optimistic and more open another.

In transforming planning audiences into cost-effective activation audiences, you need to prioritise getting as close to the individual source in data targeting as possible, and scaling where the quality of delivery allows. Contextual cues help us to deliver empathetic strategies that can be executed across distorted consumer journeys. Nothing is truly linear but embracing that and constantly optimising based on learnings we can build flexibility into our performance marketing, to reflect the fluidity we identify and appreciate through our strategic insights.

Your consumers are likely to have changed significantly based on their experiences over the past few months. It’s crucial that all brands systematically assess their current approach to audiences and targeting to understand whether it’s designed for a transformed consumer landscape.

Ask yourself:

  • How has COVID-19 impacted my category?
  • How have targeting characteristics evolved?
  • Do I modify my existing audiences or do I need to completely refocus my priorities?

Key takeouts

  1. Typically, audiences and targeting approaches are shaped by identity, needs and contextual variables.
  2. The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound impact on all three at differing rates.
  3. Landscape analysis allows you to understand how dynamics are shifting at a brand and category level.
  4. Once understood, either modify existing audiences or create new definitions based on a new reality.
  5. Fluid personas vs static segmentation are advised to reflect shifting reality.
  6. Finally, transforming planning audiences into cost-effective activation audiences that can be executed across distorted consumer journeys will be critical – constantly optimising based on learnings.

Next steps

Systematically assess your current approach to audiences and targeting to understand whether it’s designed for a transformed consumer landscape.

This article was authored by Peter White and Jamie Irving, and was first published on

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