Market Smart Solutions

Simply put, if you can’t speak to the individual, then don’t target the individual

Posted on November 3, 2023

Simply put, if you can’t speak to the individual, then don’t target the individual

We’ve all heard it: Enhanced audience targeting, custom audiences, less marketing waste and so on—Facebook’s value proposition is predicated on it.

“Choosing your audience with such reach, accuracy and affordability is what makes Facebook an incredible place to advertise.” Pinterest touts its new targeting tools as “making ads more effective,” and Twitter and Snapchat espouse similar value propositions.

While the native targeting capabilities of the leading social platforms, derived from the first-party data of its users, are compelling when applied properly, many marketers have interpreted this too literally and have focused their paid social activation efforts on audience targets that are too narrow and, therefore, have much lower match rates, so campaigns are falling short of targets.

Further exacerbating the issue is that to fully realize the benefits of micro-targeting, the marketer must have a creative strategy and delivery capability that equals the sophistication of its targeting strategy. Failure to make this connection risks alienating the consumer and ensuring that the advertisement will miss the mark.

Simply put, if you can’t speak to the individual, then don’t target the individual.

Facebook is struggling to create more high-quality audiences to increase advertiser match rates without degrading the user experience with ad saturation. The challenge for advertisers is that the segments being offered are in many cases third-party network audiences, which bring with them concerning questions of quality, viewability and overall transparency.

So what is the real opportunity? Speaking on a panel during Advertising Week in New York in late 2016, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg referenced a campaign run by General Motors that focused on “intermediate targeting” and shared that for 7 percent of the total budget, Facebook delivered 57 percent of the media impressions for that particular campaign across all channels.

“Intermediate targeting” as characterized by Sandberg is more commonly referred to as targeting the mid-funnel. Mid funnel marketing refers to the opportunity to speak to consumers who already have some level of brand familiarity but are not yet ready to buy, or are between purchase cycles.

It is the place where marketers have the best chance to increase the probability that their brand is top of mind when a consumer moves from the consideration stage to the purchase intent stage. It is also historically the place where the fewest advertising dollars have been allocated because it is the hardest to solve for addressability and measurement.

In detailing GM’s targeting strategy, Sandberg said the company GM targeted three distinct audience segments—technology, enthusiasts and safety—to achieve these results. That strikes me as a pretty wide net and suggests that in order to meet its reach goals on Facebook, GM had to radically expand its audience segments.

There is no question that Facebook has the reach. To quote Sandberg, “We have a Super Bowl every day.” What it is missing is a scalable solution that meets the addressability challenge.

The highlighted GM example relied on segments that would be deemed unnecessarily broad if a solution existed that connected to individuals at the user id level, including other probabilistic signals like recent relevant content consumption outside of social’s walled gardens.

Building the connective tissue to enable the expansion of targeting pools while maintaining relevancy and delivering results to advertisers is a significant opportunity for advertiser and publisher alike.

Unlocking these “hidden audiences” will enable advertisers to confidently scale campaigns within the clean well-lighted space of the platforms while avoiding the black-box environment of the network extensions.

For example, consider the challenge for a leading consumer-packaged-goods company looking to target consumers interested in healthy breakfast recipes. Your options today are to: cast a wide net with broad audience reach; target narrowly by self-reported interest (otherwise known as “the like”) and any available first-party data, but without confidence in the recency of the like or the underlying motivation for that like in the first place; or expand your campaign to network audiences and expose your brand to exposure risk, reporting challenges and a lack of overall transparency.

But think about the mass of people reading about healthy breakfasts across the web on a daily basis, who are currently unidentifiable on Facebook because they haven’t self-reported that interest. The following graphic tells the story.

Of the 47 million people who could be reached by this ad, the targeting parameters reduce the pool to fewer than 8,000 people who have indicated their interest. Source: Facebook Ads Manager.

But while that reachable pool is severely limited within the targeting parameters, we know millions of qualified consumers are actually reading that breakfast content. Per the graphic below, a potential solution could look like this:

The next phase of audience innovation will necessarily combine the data available from outside the walled gardens with the quality data of walled-garden audiences to create solutions that simultaneously allow publishers to unlock “hidden audiences” while empowering marketers to leverage previously siloed opportunities in a coordinated and connected way.