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Categories Customer Experience

Why “Audience-First” is Harder than it Sounds

“Audience first” is the new big obsession for digital marketers. But it’s not really a new thing at all, and neither does it change the way we should be communicating with users. After all, the name of the game has always been to target the right audience with the right message to cut wastage. So why isn’t everyone doing it already?

“Audience first” is the new big obsession for digital marketers. But it’s not really a new thing at all, and neither does it change the way we should be communicating with users. After all, the name of the game has always been to target the right audience with the right message to cut wastage. So why isn’t everyone doing it already?

What does “audience-first” even look like?

Taking a true audience-first approach is all but impossible if you can’t see past demographic profiling. The advantages of demographic segmentation are obvious – it allows you to build scale into campaigns without having to reinvent the wheel – but the logic only really works in the context of traditional media. We can give a pretty accurate assessment of the readership of Vogue, for instance, but who’s to say that a 20-year-old woman from Bristol and a 50-year-old man from Brisbane wouldn’t enjoy streaming similar content on Netflix?

The outcome of demographic profiling is typically a narrow group. Worse, this group may not even represent a brand’s most productive audience; it could entirely exclude users who show buying sentiment but aren’t covered by the restrictive demographic profile.

If you try to account for cross-platform user journeys, the situation becomes even cloudier. That’s a huge concern, as Google says 90% of users switch between devices and platforms to complete tasks. You’ll never be able to piece these disparate journeys together if you’re targeting solely on demographics, rather than the reason your audience is online in the first place.

Of course, no one’s saying we should get rid of targeting. But we certainly need to rethink our understanding of audience profiling. That means considering factors such as behaviours and moments, rather than fixating on age, gender, location and social grade. Has a user displayed buying intent toward a product or service you offer? Could an external factor – like weather, traffic or a specific local event – persuade them to buy something you offer right now?

How audience-first challenges the traditional agency

The traditional agency channel structure may be effective from a delivery perspective, but it actively hampers your ability to put the audience first. How can you expect to reach the right people with the right messaging at the right time and place if your teams are operating in siloes? After all, it’s not about “doing audience-first PPC” or “doing audience-first SEO”; it has to inform every stage of a campaign.

Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Return, explains that audience-first hasn’t ripped up the marketers’ rulebook – but it has necessitated an ever-greater fixation on agility:

“The goal of digital marketing stays the same. That is: understand who your ideal audience is, reach them at scale, and connect with them effectively and cost-efficiently. But the way we achieve it is changing. No longer can digital marketers work in channel silos. Ensuring consistent delivery of the right message, to the right person, at the right time, in the right place is critical to success, but only works at scale with a truly audience-first strategy.

“So, digital budgets need to be channel-independent, and those managing budgets across channels need to be more agile than ever. Audience behaviour needs to drive all multi-channel planning and optimisation decisions, so that at any point in time, regardless of the channel or medium, we can show the message most likely to provide the biggest possible step towards conversion.

“The final piece of the puzzle, and likely the most difficult for many, is measurement. Google Attribution (due for release in Q1) will bring attribution capabilities to the masses, so there’ll no longer be any excuse to measure ROI on a last-click basis.”

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