As consumers, all of us face discretionary and non-discretionary spending decisions.  A new tablet computer is discretionary – irrelevant of how much you want it – while the electricity bill is not.  This offers an important lesson for marketing innovation – the first chunk of the testing budgeting should be earmarked for tactics with the potential to become non-discretionary. 

This logic already exists in marketing budgets.  TV, print and display are generally treated as discretionary.  Investment is based on flights and budgets shrink or grow based on the health of the business.  Search and CRM, on the other hand, typically operate based on a non-discretionary model.   Investment is always on and funding is typically immune to the vagaries of the budgeting process.  Marketers accept that these opportunities are just too good to pass up, irrelevant of the latest debate in the board room.

Screening for vehicles with the potential to become “too good to pass up” is one way to drive marketing innovation.  Search and CRM share one key characteristic to their staying power that is highly informative in this regard – depth of one-to-one targeting.

Both drive communication with a narrow group of individuals self-identified based on highly-specific criteria – the search term in the former case, the act of purchase in the latter.   The depth of targeting translates directly into value – there’s a reason why paid search operates on an auction model.  At the end of the day marketing budgets tell the story – in the US CRM budgets are second only to TV and search represents half the digital spend.

Looking out across the innovation horizon, no single tactic delivers a comparable depth of targeting with one notable exception – Audience Buying.

Audience buying differs from traditional online display tactics

This method entails you target only the cookies that exhibit desired characteristics.  This offers clear efficiency benefits over the broadcast model where the media buyer ends up paying to reach both the consumers within and outside of the target. 

Fueled by the Big Data revolution, audience buying incorporates an unprecedented range of targeting techniques.  The methods listed below provide only a sampling selected to demonstrate a parallel with search and CRM.

  • Search Retargeting.  A direct parallel to search, search retargeting enables marketers to serve display ads to consumers who searched for relevant content but did not end up on the marketer’s site. 
  • In-Market.  Similar to search retargeting, data gathered through shopping comparisons sites also allows marketers to intercept the consumers at a crucial point in their purchase cycle.
  • Retargeting.  The most widely accepted audience buying tactic, retargeting extends the dialogue with qualified shoppers beyond the site visit.  Retargeting picks up where a successful search effort finished.
  • CRM.  Marketers also have the ability to mirror their CRM tactics in display.  A direct mail list is translated into a list of cookies enabling synchronized communication across both CRM and display.

In all cases, audience buying reaches narrow segments, self-identified based on highly-specific activities.  The direct parallel with CRM and paid search provides more than a hint at the value potential of these techniques.  

Many have already recognized that audience buying is a tactic they can no longer afford to overlook. Those seeking to exploit Audience Buying to its fullest should focus on four guiding principles:

  • Budget.  In contrast to traditional display, audience buying merits always on investment. Layer heavy-ups on top of this base to support campaign efforts based on flighting.
  • Plan.  With tens of thousands of potential segments, you need a master plan to stay on target as you test and learn your way to desired performance. This master plan should marry audience data with media.
  • Data.  Scouring the entire data ecosystem for viable audience data is a necessity. Simply reaching out to data aggregators is typically not enough; you’ll need to do some legwork.  It’s wise to partner with a company that has expertise in Audience Planning to accelerate this process.
  • Media.  Source media across networks and publishers in addition to exchanges.  Exchanges offer massive reach but do not see every impression.  Networks and publishers have access to inventory unavailable on exchanges and will deliver incremental reach and frequency across your audience target.

Technology drives stunning change.  Tactics viewed as a novelty a couple of years back become core.  Audience Buying is poised to make this transition over the next twelve months.  And while this article stresses the obvious parallels with proven direct response tactics, marketers should not underestimate the potential for new efficiencies and impact throughout brand building.   Whatever your objectives, if you don’t have a master plan for Audience Buying, now is the time to create one.  

After all, does audience buying look like a tactic you can live without?