The Holy Grail for marketers has always been finding a customer just at the moment before a purchase and influencing the customer’s choice. During my entire lifetime, better targeting has seemed like the best way to do that. The crudest targeting tools, first introduced during the Mad Men era, were demographics and psychograpics: finding consumers in the right age, income, and aspirational range. Before that, advertising was just spray and pray.
The use of data has only grown more complicated since its early deployments. Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google have so much information about us that if they could just use it or sell it, advertising would be an exact science (if indeed anything is an exact science). But somehow that hasn’t happened. The ability to know the customer and use that knowledge effectively has both increased and decreased over the past fifty years. Digital advertising, especially, has reached new levels of precision. That’s where the increase has occurred. The decrease has occurred because we chose performance as our first objective, thinking digital advertising should be measured like direct mail, by the percentage of opens, or by the number of people who used the coupon to make a purchase.
Using performance as a metric means we have evolved to the consummate level of targeting: retargeting a unique customer who has already made a purchase. And boy, is the customer angry when we do that to her. So angry that she may even have installed an ad blocker, or learned how to browse in incognito mode.
Now, just at the point where we ought to be re-examining our strategies and tactics, we are being offered new ways to slice and dice data — data lakes, integrated analytics, and a few other buzz words.
It is possible that “better” analytics will only make things worse, because the more consumers sense that their privacy is being violated — and Millennials are the worst offenders, because they say they don’t care about privacy but they download all the ad blockers — the less open they are to messages from marketers.
Even the ones they used to welcome, like news of a sale, information about the specs on a car, or the premiere of a new film.
Until we have built back the trust of consumers, we believe that many advertisers should focus on brand awareness, using premium publishers to target for them. The publishers have their own data, and have hopefully not antagonized their readers with too many interruptive ads. As marketers, the industry should stop putting pressure on publishers to negatively impact the user experience with interruptive ads. If we do that, we can get back to where we were before all this data, and before 25% of our potential customers became unavailable to us online.