Nov 052016

Target Marketing is the concept of identifying interested and relevant prospects and introducing one’s goods and services to them through appropriate channels.

The key concept here is the adjective ‘relevant.’ However, wherever you look and whichever metric you measure it by this concept is a bust for the advertiser and the professional marketer. The failure of the concept, however, is even more dramatic when one contrasts it with the riches earned by the media and the channels involved.

Here are a couple of examples of the failure of the concept, which are directly related to the dearth of success in personalization as a key component of relevance:

The traditionally obvious example is your TV or radio set. They propagate advertising messages that are irrelevant or undesirable to the vast majority of their viewers. Here is the analogy: imagine if you had a $100 grocery budget every week and managed to waste $80 of it. In other words 80% of the budget is spent on items that end up down the proverbial drain or into trash. That clearly would be unacceptable, yet that is what is happening week in and week out (in TV and radio advertising, hopefully not your grocery budget). The 20% effectiveness rate may of course be quite exaggerated.


Enter the baron of personalization and relevance: the Internet. The web is the forum that leverages the magic of technology to render old media, well, old, and cure what ails marketing. A myriad of technologies have popped up to track the audience online and ensure relevance and effectiveness. Except let us actually examine the evidence. Here are two examples to which conceptually many could relate:

  • You are fifteen-years old and go on the Internet to watch a video of your favourite Montreal, Canada-based death metal band on YouTube. First, however, you have to watch a thirty-second video of an application called Grammarly, which is a grammatically inaccurate name for a company and namesake product that improves one’s grammar when applying for jobs, writing to a love interest or asking for a raise and other reasons.
  • You are a dutiful daughter who lives in an apartment and on a Saturday morning decide to order your retired mother a book on gardening from Amazon. The mother, you see, maintains a small garden behind her house as a hobby and a passion. Thereafter and forevermore – or at least until the daughter dumps the cookies and PIEs – she will see a selection of gardening books, tools and paraphernalia every time she visits Amazon (from the comfort of her twelfth floor pad).

The missed opportunity is not just in millions of wasted advertising dollars. It is also in the realization that there is an opportunity cost in not delivering relevant content to where it belongs and the potential for ill will. Does anyone not believe that annoying customers with impertinent advertising content is a wasteful marketing sin? Moreover, annoying potential customers can have a lingering adverse effect. Thousands of viewers were annoyed by Burger King years ago when the fast food chain’s commercials overlaid the live game during the world cup of football.

So, what needs to happen on the Internet and the coming universe of IOT? There is the promise of cognitive analytics to give tooth to target marketing, but fact of the matter remains that as of today the potential is unrealized. What then? The answer: give users options. The use of the word ‘option’ is deliberate and used as a contrast to ‘choice.’ Users do not have a choice given how not accepting cookies, PIEs, location-based tracking or registering renders many websites unavailable or useless. Instead of insisting on personalizing based on an algorithm and software imposed on users let the user community have full control on the information exchanged and degree of trade off. Being upfront and blunt about the tracking and information extracted and giving users options to consent or deny whilst explaining what withholding consent may mean is the only results-oriented path. This, however, should never result in a lack of access or being denied service. Customers should be able to search the web, buy books and leave comments on a forum, as examples, without the force of being tracked and targeted if they so choose. The proportion of the population that does consent to personalization and targeted marketing should be able to do so in degrees and in a customized fashion. What that means is the power to say ‘yes’ to tailored deals like those for metal band sweatshirts, but simultaneously and on the same platform, being able to say ‘no’ to grammar optimization apps (and 1,000 other equally unwanted ads). Another option, of course, is to say no to all of it: age, gender, income, location, the lot of it.

The down-side and why this is not done? A much smaller proportion of the audience will opt in. Marketing and technology have to live by the sword and die by the sword of results.

The up-side? The information provided by consenting users is much richer, pertinent and likely to lead to marketing success.

In other words, no more annoyingly immaterial gardening books being pushed to someone living on the twelfth floor while pretending relevant ads are being consumed.


*Things That Need To Go Away: Claiming Customer Benefit As A Euphemism For Ensuring More Sales