Read a few media kits from publishers looking to sell ad inventory on their websites and chances are you’ll notice a trend: wherever possible, publishers will try to play up the ‘premium’ nature of their audiences.

From income to education, more is apparently better. It seems to make sense: an audience of highly-educated individuals earning above-average salaries sounds perfect on paper. But is it?

Perhaps not if you consider a recent study conducted by Leads360.

While the study, which looked at lead quality in the insurance, mortgage and education industries through the lens of credit scores, found that leads from prospects with “excellent” or “good” credit scores converted at a significantly greater clip than those less well off, when it came to insurance leads, individuals with higher credit scores were actually far less likely to convert.

Who are you really targeting?

Leads360’s study highlights a fact often ignored by both publishers and media buyers alike: the value of an audience is often highly variable. Put another way, a publisher’s garbage could actually be an advertiser’s gold. A person with a poor credit rating, for instance, may be a less-than-attractive prospect for a mortgage company but the ideal prospect for an insurance company.

Unfortunately, far too many publishers sell certain attributes of their audiences, such as high salaries and levels of education, as net benefits, and less sophisticated media buyers fall for this ‘affluent trap.’

Far more important: understanding the audience you’re really trying to reach. Sure, many media buyers won’t want to say “I’m looking to reach an audience that is less educated and less financially stable” and most publishers aren’t going to want to play up the fact that their audience isn’t the crème de la crème, but the truth of the matter is that most brands don’t succeed by marketing and selling only to affluents.

With this in mind, many publishers will want to be more thoughtful when describing their audiences and media buyers will want to ensure that their assumptions about the attributes of the audiences they’re trying to reach are indeed appropriate.