Compare Ozzy Osbourne and Prince Charles. Bear with me here. Ozzy and Charles are men in their ‘later’ years, both with houses in expensive parts of London. Both are wealthy, both have kids, both talk to plants.
Using panel-based demographic data, it would be hard to tell them apart. The data would urge us to show them the same advert on the same site. They’re clearly very different people, but creating an ad that appeals to both would be more down to luck than to skill.
Since the very beginning of time, we have strived to get the right people to see our ads. We started by using data gleaned from 3,000-question surveys filled out by people who have time to fill out 3,000-question surveys. We tried to segment audiences into groups in the hope that when we showed them an ad, it resonated and they did something because of it.
In doing so, there was always going to be wastage. There were always people who watched Home and Away (my dad) who were very different to your typical Home and Away fan (my younger sister). They were shown ads they weren’t interested in, and, heaven forbid, they ignored those ads.
Even worse, by addressing very different people with the same voice, we risked not appealing to any of them. Even worse, we risked alienating some, if not all, of them.
A better way?
Throw into the equation ad blockers, near-zero click-through rates and the ability to pause live programmes so you can fast-forward through the adverts, and you don’t have to be psychic to recognise that the industry needs to find a better way to help consumers discover new things.
Instead of displaying an advert to a group of people and then watching what they do, we can now start by listening to users for an extended period of time before deciding that they should even see an ad. We can look for the signals that indicate they are ready and receptive, and only then display a specially crafted advert that is relevant to that person, at that time, in that location.
Instead of starting with ‘everyone’ and then filtering out those who told us they thought they were different in a survey, we can now start with an individual and look for others who behave in a similar way to them. We can shift from using static, panel-based data to filter an audience, and instead use behavioural data to group individuals.
Instead of identifying a change in London’s weather to display a picture of a Cypriot beach to everyone in London, we should be using a myriad of other signals to help identify when to show them that Cypriot beach. And better still, what kind of ad to show it in.
The perfect opportunity
We can combine a person’s browsing history – for example, a travel agent’s website – with their physical location – on the high street near a travel agent shop – to help us decide when to show them an ad. The fact that they have two kids with half-term coming up enables us to make the destination all the more appealing. The fact that they walk around their local park twice a day and have visited or called a vet’s surgery indicates they likely to have a dog. So, once we’ve seen them book their holiday, we can anticipate the next beautifully timed opportunity: options for dog hotels while they are away.
Not only can we build a much fuller understanding of consumers and their behaviours, we have a much richer canvas on which to advertise, with the ability to display a series of adverts designed to be viewed by a specific person in a specific order across multiple channels.
Today’s marketing can hold continuous conversations with audiences, suggesting one idea after another and developing a more trusted advisory role than an out-and-out sales one. We should use as many signals as possible to influence the media placement as well as the creative itself.
We have the largest computers in the world trained to help us find the right person, at the right time, in the right place, looking at the right website, reading the right article, into which we can place a bespoke advert made to nudge them along the purchase path we have devised especially for them. Use this power wisely until, you know, GDPR comes around.