Audience targeting

Audience targeting

Quick definition

Audience targeting is the ability to take your full audience of prospective customers and segment it into groups based on different criteria, including online behavioral characteristics, demographics, interests, and intent. Audience targeting helps you more effectively deliver personalized and optimized experiences based on customer needs and interests.

Key takeaways

Audience targeting allows companies to deliver personalized experiences to customers who are most likely to purchase.

First, audience segments must be created from customer profiles that include data points such as demographics and online behavior.

Audience targeting is a cycle: you gather data, build profiles, segment audiences, activate campaigns, then evaluate your performance to revise the targeting strategy.

Challenges to audience targeting include a lack of tools or resources, having too broad of a reach, and not identifying the right frequency of touchpoints.

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Danielle Doolin is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Analytics for Video, with a focus on the media and entertainment vertical. She has a background in digital advertising and media analytics, and previously worked as a Product Manager for Validated Campaign Essentials at comScore focused on audience advertising measurement.

What is audience targeting?

How does audience targeting work?

What is the process to achieve effective targeting?

How do you build a target audience?

What are some of the challenges companies face when trying to target audiences?

What is the ROI for audience targeting?

Q: What is audience targeting?

A: Audience targeting started out as a fundamental process for marketers to be able to create ads or content specifically for people who were more likely to buy their products by using demographic or behavioral characteristics to narrow who they addressed.

The process of audience targeting has advanced in recent years to not only look at the basic primary and secondary targets with maybe one or two specific demographic segments. Now, it also incorporates customer journey analytics and understands all the behavioral data of someone who purchases. It allows you to focus on more granular audience segments as far as who you want to target and why.

Q: How does audience targeting work?

A: When it comes to marketing and advertising campaigns, you need to know, at a specific moment in time, who's actually engaging with your marketing content so you can deliver a relevant ad. And the way that both publishers and advertisers are able to do that is through tools that enable you to build out customer profiles to understand who your customers are.

Once you have the data, audience targeting is the next step. Audience targeting is about activation — taking specific segments of the audience and acting on them. That could be through delivering relevant ads, running an A/B test to provide them with a personalized homepage or landing page once they visit your site, or sending them a targeted email based on their interests or demographic characteristics.

Q: What is the process to achieve effective targeting?

A: First, start with a group of customers. Divide that into audience segments using your data management platform (DMP) or your customer relationship management (CRM) system. Once you want to activate a campaign for any of those segments, you can then go to a personalization engine like Adobe Target, a content management system (CMS) like Adobe Experience Manager, or your ad server and apply those segments to be able to serve the ads or deliver the content relevant to the users in your targeted audience segment.

Next, within those tools, or if it's fed into your analytics system like Adobe Analytics, you can look at how the ads or content performed with the audience segment you targeted — or how the metrics align with your KPI and business goals. Does it lead to a conversion, more time spent on page, or page views — whatever your KPIs are? If you notice that it doesn't perform as you intended, you can refine your content or target audience and try again.

If you have a broad target audience, like females ages 18–49, and you have a low conversion rate, then you may want to see what segment of users in that target audience did convert — what were some of the common characteristics? Determine how you can use that information to try retargeting for your next campaign to get a higher conversion rate.

You also could create a new segment of people who didn't convert and look at what that group did do — what other products did they look at? Think about how you can use that insight to inform your next activation strategy. Maybe the strategy will be to present them with a different product — one that they were likely to look at during their experience.

Q: How do you build a target audience?

A: Target audiences are made up of individual customers. And the more you know about your customers, the more specific you can be in creating target audiences. The best place to start is with customer profiles. Perhaps you work with a DMP, CRM, or customer data platform (CDP) to manage customer profiles. To enhance those profiles, you can also bring in other information from your analytics solution, like customer journey data and purchase behaviors. You can also exchange or purchase second- and third-party data through the marketplace to further build out customer profiles.

But each customer should have a single ID so you can identify them across devices and data sources — otherwise they may appear as two or more different customers or visitors when really it’s only one person. You could have a visitor ID, which is a known ID for your company for that specific user. You can also use device IDs, advertising IDs like the IDFA, or Android ID. You can also use cookies, but you should use first-party cookies and have customers opt in to avoid browser restrictions.

Once you have the data and your customer profiles, it's all about activating against it through whatever solution or tool that you want, whether for your website, in your mobile app, or via email or text, for example. It's up to the company to decide or even leverage the data that they have to see the common characteristics of the users that are purchasing products or services.

Q: What are some of the challenges companies face when trying to target audiences?

A: One common challenge is targeting too broad of an audience. If your reach is too broad, like people ages 18–49, you may not do as good a job meeting your KPIs as you would when targeting a more granular audience. You may hit the goal of reaching a lot of people, which may work for a branding campaign. But if you want to actually reach people that are going to convert and buy your product or service, then you want to lower your reach by targeting a smaller audience segment of users that are more likely to convert. Something like people ages 18–49, who are female, and who have a specific interest that's relative to your product.

Serving too many ads to your target audience is another challenge. If you start serving ads to people you know from previous tests are already interested in your product, it’s easy to overtarget them with too many ads. This creates a frustrating experience for the customer and also can be a waste of money for you. Finding the right frequency of ads is important.

Brands have gotten better at personalizing content and ads, but they also need to apply those same ideas as they use in pre-purchase personalization efforts and also apply them to communications and campaigns for after the sale. They need to really look at the data across all of the different touchpoints, whether it’s before, during, or after the purchase.

Companies may also lack the tools or resources they need for understanding and targeting their customer audiences. They may not be correctly collecting or analyzing data. They may not have a database that can build unified customer profiles — stitching together data from a variety of sources. They also may not have access to AI for more sophisticated modeling or to be able to personalize content at scale.

Finally, customer data needs to be updated in real time so that you are always aware of where your customers are in the sales cycle and can ensure that they are categorized into the right segments at any point in time. Because a customer could fall into different categories at different times, you need to stay on top of where your customers stand and what changes have happened in their lives that could impact your targeting strategy. It takes a lot of time to build your customer profiles and audience segments. Being able to act in real time is so important, but in reality, a lot of companies struggle with this capability or they haven’t budgeted the money to invest in solutions that update data in real time.

Q: What is the ROI for audience targeting?

A: Today, companies emphasize not just growth, but also being able to retain customers. It's about reaching the right audiences at the right time. When that happens, brands can look at KPIs like conversion rates, customer lifetime value, or net promoter scores and get a good idea of how effective they are at targeting specific audiences. Are they reaching the right people? Are they consistently purchasing instead of dropping off?

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