The amount of data available to marketers using digital channels is immense. But while digital is lauded for its ability to allow brands to reach the right consumer, at the right time, in the right environment, the question remains whether it is an effective medium for mass marketing.
Digital channels are often accused of making marketers think too narrowly in their activity, meaning they sacrifice reach and long-term growth for narrow, short-term metrics.
Brands have become more acutely aware of this trade-off since the publication of Byron Sharp’s book ‘How Brands Grow’, which suggests marketers should replace targeting with “sophisticated mass marketing”.
Last year, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard confirmed the company was moving away from targeted Facebook advertising after calling its approach too “targeted and narrow”. P&G, however, insisted it was not planning to cut its total investment in Facebook and would continue to use targeted ads for some products, such as selling nappies to expectant parents.
Meanwhile, Mars’s former global CMO Bruce McColl has asserted that he is “not a great believer in targeting”, adding that the company’s target is “about seven billion people sitting on this planet”. Speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation’s conference last year, he said: “Our task is to reach as many people as we can; to get them to notice us and remember us; to nudge them; and, hopefully, get them to buy us once more this year.”
Both statements would indicate that the brands are following Sharp’s recommendation to “continuously reach all buyers of the category” and move away from standard segmentation and targeting if they want to grow their business. It is often not digital that springs to mind when looking to reach people at scale.
IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull believes the natural progression is towards personalisation, driven by the rise in data generated by digital and social media.
“The insight you get from data you can then expand on, starting with the individual. That approach gives you more nuance, so you can serve creative work that works and improve the quality of advertising online and offline,” she adds.
Brands can use targeted marketing communications to deliver personalisation, which drives increased engagement and conversion rates, according to the IPA’s Social Works Personalisation guide published in March. However, the report acknowledges that strategies designed to increase brand relevance should always be balanced with campaigns that drive reach through mass marketing.
Targeting en masse
When The Economist wanted to increase brand awareness and drive subscriptions, it targeted a group of people labelled the “globally curious”, modelled on its database of existing subscribers. Despite being targeted, this was by no means a niche group, with The Economist estimating the number of globally curious people was close to 73 million.
“If a brand is to solve an awareness challenge, then reach is important, but we don’t conduct reach campaigns just for the sake of it. There will always be a longer-term goal and everything we do has a KPI to it,” explains Mark Beard, senior vice-president of digital media and content strategy at The Economist.
“We need to make sure everything we do is driving some kind of interaction and [can] help us convert more people to subscribers,” says Beard
This was the approach taken by The Economist for its digital marketing campaign ‘Raising Eyebrows and Subscriptions’. The aim was to provoke the audience by serving them content they couldn’t ignore in order to demonstrate the relevance of The Economist’s journalism. The idea was to give people “their own epiphany” by offering content that compelled them to subscribe.
Part of this strategy involved placing ad units on articles the globally curious target group were already reading, which showed them a hopefully more interesting article authored by The Economist team.
The success of the campaign was highly measurable, generating 5.2 million clicks and 64,000 new subscribers worth £51.7m in lifetime revenue. The campaign, which won a Gold Cannes Lion last year, continues to run and has evolved to include an element of video.
Aviva’s brand communication and marketing director Pete Markey says there is a “sweet spot” of people the insurer wants to reach, but argues that if a business becomes too narrow, it will not be visible to customers.
Instead, he suggests the best segmentation is one the entire business can use that goes beyond targeting to focus on the experience the brand wants to give the audience.
“I see a role for broader segmentation, but I also see a role for smaller, microtargeting. It’s not one at the expense of another,” says Markey. “I’ve seen segmentation that works and doesn’t work. The danger is if it becomes the exclusive property of the marketing team, the rest of the business isn’t that interested. If you can’t use segmentation, it very quickly loses its credibility.”