Reaching the Right People in a Vast Digital Universe

Anna Nelson

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Written by Anna Nelson | Director of Digital Strategy

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we live in an online world. About 93% of Americans say a major interruption to their internet or cell phone service would be a problem in their daily life. Think about that. Ninety-three percent. We know your target customers are spending time online, but that’s a pretty vast universe. The real question is: How confident are you that you’re reaching the right people?

The explosion in web use has created an explosion in digital ad platforms. Publishing conglomerates, social networks, digital audio and video providers and ad networks all vie for your dollars with jazzy PowerPoints and increasingly shiny new ad packages. But even with all their focus, many of those vendors struggle to get audience targeting right.

Case in point: Google is one of the biggest companies in the U.S. and still has trouble distinguishing parents from children as part of YouTube ad buys, despite legal fines and bad press

Let’s start by focusing focus on just one piece of the equation: How to reach your highest-value prospects to achieve the lowest cost per acquisition.

  1. Start with the data you own.

    Data that you own on current or potential high-value customers is the best way to target your advertising. What does that mean? If you have a list of 10,000 emails or phone numbers of people that are interested in your product/service (or have previously purchased from you), you can target ads directly to those individuals by securely uploading your list into many different platforms — from social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to demand side platforms (DSPs), to media partners like Google, Spotify and more (A note on security: these days, digital advertising providers find matches, keep the anonymous identifiers and immediately discard the personal information). Given the impending end of cookie-tracking on the web, which will shake up the way many companies target people online, ownership of your data guarantees that you will reach the right people. Not only that, but most vendors allow you to find a “lookalike” audience based on the web patterns of others using that particular platform. Because vendor data capabilities vary widely, make sure to start small with a test, before overcommitting to large “lookalike” buys.
  2. Don’t own customer data? Start building now.

    The gold standard is loyalty programs. Matching personally identifiable information (like phone, email or mailing address) with actual past purchase data allows marketers to tailor future promotions to the specific needs or interests of your target audience. Even if you are a marketing team without access to direct sales data, there are ways to begin to build a database:
    • Step 1: If possible, integrate opt-in language into your sales process. When a transaction happens, there should be an opportunity for the customer to provide an email or phone number. It should specifically note that, by sharing, the customer agrees to receive future marketing. Clear opt-in language is a must in order to comply with privacy laws. You cannot pull customer data unless those customers give you explicit permission.
    • Step 2: Offer something your potential customers want. It might be access to exclusive content, a free gift or the chance to earn future discounts. You know your audience — it should be something meaningful enough for them to share an email address or phone number.
  3. Partner to get the data, but make sure you run quality tests.

    If you haven’t built your database, continue to purchase the data you need from media companies and partner brands who know and have access to your core target customers. Data quality, and the ability to finely target, varies widely by platform and by vendor. When using customer data from other sources, make sure to run tests. Define a clear, business-oriented key performance indicator (if not the sale itself) and test two vendors against one another with the same campaign. Or use your fledgling database as your control as you work with partners to determine how close to the mark they might be.

The digital universe can seem overwhelming. But by implementing the rigor now to secure good data, you’ll ensure your targeting is reaching the right customers, and your marketing efforts will see a boost today and into the future.