Are You a Disciple of the Targeting Cult?


The idea of knowing what people want to buy before you serve them an ad is genuinely revolutionary. Or at least it would be if it actually worked, says Richard Huntington. Making assumptions about people based on past behavior is a good way to be exactly wrong.

I've brought it up before. Many do research on behalf of clients, or for a relative, or to write a blog post. Although we use search to get stuff done, search, alone, is not a dead on indication of purchasing intent. In other words, it is missing context.

Let me give you an example to drive this home.

I just received an offer to sign up from an energy provider that uses the U.S.Air Mileage Plus incentive to get me to take action.

Although his signature is on the offer, the Managing Director of Loyalty & Marketing Programs at U.S.Air has no idea that a better incentive for me would be to be able to use the oodles of miles I *already* have to board early on domestic flights.

Want to target me? Give me a way to use those points for something *I* value. Let me pay for flights. Give me early boarding. I might be inclined to search for his contact info to let him know. Want to serve me fries with that ad?

Yup, the marketing teams got in a room and decided that what is best for the respective companies is to push a product people are not buying (switching electricity provider headaches are not worth the trouble, apparently), by rewarding them with something they don't want (I fly Southwest wherever I can because they give me the option to have early boarding).

Anyone want to venture the cost to conversion for this little adventure? Add the copy writing and legal review costs to those for printing, mailing, landing page design, potential banner/search ad campaign thrown in, and that of annoyed customers who have been poorly targeted for good measure.

It's a great deal only if it's relevant.

Otherwise it's just wasting money.


Because they still have this inventory fulfillment approach to marketing and promotions, brands constantly miss opportunities to connect with true fans in social. Sharing information can be an indication of higher relevance. There is a third, better indicator of intent: involvement.

For example, I have mentioned I am a huge fan of Adidas running shoes and products in social networks (even to the brand's agency). My involvement with the brand started when I was playing in a soccer league back in Italy many years ago. My coach recommended Adidas. I never looked at other brands.

I guess Adidas doesn't have a listening program in place. Or maybe they expect I "like" their Facebook page and jump through their next promotional campaign hoops to say hi. Okay, forget that. It's all over my purchasing history. Adidas running shoes. People are not waiting to be targeted to follow a brand, they follow their wants and habits (and the recommendations of trusted sources).

For other brands that want to woo customers: Is digital interaction enough to influence runners to switch? The answer to when is a good time to reach out without targeting people is: when they're talking to you. Use @ reply.


Are you a disciple of the targeting cult?

Sorry if you feel that way…


[image by Ludovic Bertron]