Do you view your customer as a name or a number?

CMOs and brands need to rethink the way they approach audiences.

By Sophia Durrani, Managing Partner for Strategy

CMOs and brands need to rethink the way they approach audiences. As an industry, we spend too long generalising and marketing to audiences based solely on their age group, gender, and location—and this has to stop. It’s a problem that constantly rears its head every time we seek to define a new age group or social movement that we don’t quite understand.

Baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and now Gen Z. The received wisdom is that each subsequent generation seeks to challenge the cultural and social order to distinguish itself from its immediate predecessor. Of course, it isn’t really that straightforward, but these types of generalisations are still rife in our industry.

The reality of this kind of labelling is that we are suggesting entire generations are homogenous groups embodying particular attitudes and behaviours, and the same applies to housewives, families, and more. These types of reductionist assumptions can be detrimental to your brand’s marketing strategy.

As an industry, all too often, we ignore the fact that attitudes and lifestyle are what predominantly drives purchasing behaviours, rather than demographics. Humans are too complex and nuanced for these basic statistics to tell CMOs everything they need to know about their customers, let alone unlock a communications strategy that will truly connect with them and drive those all-important sales.

The Business Of Stereotyping

The problem is that we work in the business of stereotyping, and the very nature of creating a bullseye audience means it can be very hard to break from this endemic trend. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a pen portrait of someone over the age of 60 who takes a great deal of pleasure from their garden. In this world of data, fuelled by technology, there is no excuse to rely on hunches, assumptions, or single sources. Rather, CMOs have to work closely with their teams and agencies to ensure they know as much about their customers as possible.

Better analysis and use of a breadth of data mean we are better placed to identify the true potential customer. Thanks to the likes of DMPs and analytics, we can provide a much needed unified customer view, saving marketers from wading through a mire of owned, third-party, and partner data. This will have a knock-on effect for the attractive but, ultimately limiting, strategy of just going after the newest and shiniest generation. A data-led approach is more likely to bring greater returns for your business by reaching a higher-value audience.

However, the current tendency is to use DMPs to drive short-term targeting efficiencies, rather than unlock longer-term growth strategies. This is a missed opportunity as data can inform both—but we need to get better at realising its full potential. Consequently, CMOs and their agencies would be unwise to rely on DMPs or analytics alone as a replacement of the insight function.

More Than Targeting

Marketing is more than just about targeting—viewing people as sets of data doesn’t allow us to generate a clear understanding of who they really are. We talk about DMPs helping us to reach the right people in the right place at the right time, but relevance is not the same as resonance, and you can’t have one without the other. There’s little point in serving highly targeted ads to people if those ads simply don’t resonate with them.

Aligning data to real-world insight helps you to pull together profiles of audiences that go beyond the page. They become real people with hopes, and dreams, and fears. The richer your audience understanding, the easier it is to pull away from stereotyping, to single out and destroy those generalisations that have little bearing on reality. At the same time, you have a better springboard for creativity and storytelling in comms that will resonate with your potential consumers. This is so important because the simple fact is people don’t want to be stereotyped.

Brands such as Sport England and Always understand that their audiences don’t feel accurately represented in advertising or in wider culture. By coupling insight with better targeting, they’ve started to champion different aspects of human behaviour that go beyond lazy assumptions, and they are reaping the rewards both in terms of brand equity and ROI.

It’s well worth taking the extra time and effort to align data with insight because the rewards for advertisers that look beyond the obvious, or the clichéd, to define their customers are significant.


This article was first published on CMO, here.