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Traditional demographic segments are in large part what marketers currently rely on to deliver their message in front of a relevant audience.

However, years of research says that demographics is just one of a number of independent variables that may impact campaign performance.

Instead of using demographic segments such as ‘Males aged 18-24’ as the be all and end all of targeting consumers, marketers in the online space can reap the benefits of new technologies to discover what other factors may be positively or negatively affecting the performance of their campaigns.

Why are we still focused on demographic targeting? 

To realise the true value of targeted advertising and to initiate conversations with the right audiences, brands need to consider not just what a broad age and gender group might be interested in, but whether or not their ad is truly working and, far more importantly, why

Why has the online video advertising industry focused on using demographic targeting as the principle method of convincing clients to shift spend from broadcast to video on demand (VoD)? 

This one is certainly up for debate, but the answer lies in the fact that it’s the path of least resistance.

As an industry, we took a look at a conservatively estimated £3bn ball of broadcast spend and tried to walk and talk and act like those budgets are transacted. In the online space technology can be used to offer VoD buyers the same target groups as they’re used to buying in the broadcast sector. Makes sense. 

The mistake being made here, however, is ignoring modern day technologies that can actually cater to true marketing goals. Reach against a target group is not a marketing KPI, it is a buying KPI, perhaps at best a proxy for a real marketing objective, and at worst, a lazy way to get the media plan done quickly.

Advertisers looking to extend their TV creative into the online environment need to realise that the traditional broadcast demographics they’re used to are now decades old.

In real life an 18-24 year old male is lots of things other than just an 18-24 year old male. He lives in London, or Manchester, or Leeds. He likes sports, or current events, or entertainment. He is an early riser, or a night owl...you get my point, not to mention that he may be a she depending on who is using the computer at any given time.

Individuals within a particular demographic group are all complex and different, each with their own interests, viewing habits and buying intentions.

The reason these demographic groups became prevalent targeting segments in the broadcast sector is simply because they’re the best methods available given the limitations of technology.

Online video and technology

The digital industry can get far more specific and identify much more sophisticated target groups than TV ever could. True, brands have years and years of research and have got targeting models on TV down to a relative science, but why not go beyond models?

Online video ad measurement can use technology to provide insight into what kinds of users perform against a KPI, and, perhaps more importantly, what kinds of users do not. After all you’ll always learn more when things go wrong than when things go right. 

While demographics may be very telling, marketers can now consider options beyond these proxies for marketing goals that tend to inform them. They can monitor, in real time, various environmental factors.

These independent variables, or “signals” as we call them at Tremor Video, are behind the success of brand KPIs.

There are several KPIs essential to online video but of particular relevance are:

  • Engagement – the way viewers interact with an ad. 
  • Brand lift – the amount an ad raises positive consumer perception.
  • Time spent – the amount of time a viewer spends with an ad, and of course, the big daddy of them all.  
  • Conversions

By measuring the signals that affect and impact the performance of an ad against these KPIs, marketers can learn far more about the reasons behind an ad’s success or failure and start to target consumers in a much more sophisticated way than simply by age, sex, and site lists.

These insights can go far beyond the walls of VoD and begin to provide real marketing insight that can translate to inform a brand's entire cross-media strategy.  

Measurement technology now enables advertisers to gain true insight by looking at a wealth of signals that can be measured to determine whether or not they have an effect on brand performance.

Just some of these include:

  • The time of day that viewers watch an ad.
  • The days of the week that viewers watch an ad.
  • The geographical locations viewers watch an ad in.
  • Whether viewers watch an ad in Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer or other browser types.
  • The types of content viewers watch before seeing an ad.
  • The amount of times viewers are exposed to an ad.

These signals provide advertisers with insight into how well an online video ad campaign is performing against specific brand KPIs and, again, more importantly, why.

The difficulty that has been faced in the online video industry has been effectively communicating the significance of this sort of data to brands and advertisers.

My data expert colleagues  have developed a new client-facing measurement console coming to the UK in November called the “Videohub”. This will directly demonstrate to advertisers the impact that these additional signals have on influencing the performance of a VoD campaign.

For example, data gleaned from the Videohub in the US has shown that marketers can often sacrifice brand lift by over reliance on CTRs.

An FMCG firm in the US using click through rates as its key campaign objective found its ad performed best when targeting audiences between 1am and 9am. However, monitoring campaign performance through the Videohub showed the brand would have achieved vastly increased branding benefit by focusing its ads between 1pm and 9pm.

Caveat here: data to date has shown that there are wild differences for each brand and that different signals can be more or less important for each brand, against each KPI.

But that’s exactly the point: there are too many of these signals which could affect performance, and marketers need the power of technology to help them understand which of these signals are important in each and every individual case. 

Advances in measurement technology go far beyond the traditional broadcast demographic data sets, providing more complete, more capable and, ultimately, more valuable information.

New technologies are enabling marketers to optimise their campaigns not just toward demographics but towards the signals that exhibit the best performance against their KPIs.

This gives advertisers the control, detail and insight needed to trigger an intelligent, informed and effective conversation with the real people that make up historically defined demographic groups.

Dan Ruch

Published 21 September, 2011 by Dan Ruch

Dan Ruch is VP Europe at Tremor Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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