Stop Targeting Your Consumers

Have you noticed how the language of marketing often sounds like we are in the military? In our marketing and media plans, we use words like “target” and “campaign” – it sounds like the brand is the aggressor and that the marketer’s job is to attack the consumer. I have a mental picture of a shooter in an arcade or a fair, firing at targets and knocking them down as quickly as they pop up.

As digital marketing allows brands to converse with their customers in increasingly direct ways, it is time to change our language – because words matter. What you call something influences your behavior towards it. As brand marketers, we have always sought to create an emotional relationship between the brand and the consume. Digital tools allow us to create content that is more personalized than ever before, and it is time to change our language to words that reflect a relationship.

In our personal lives, we meet strangers, who then may become interesting acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances become friends. Some folks say that strangers are just friends that they haven’t yet met. We often meet new friends through introductions by current friends. Brand marketers seeking to create relationships between the brand and the consumer should use the same kinds of language, recognizing that there are real people at both ends of the marketing communications – not “targets”, but potential friends of the brand.

A blog post by Jon Holden put it well: “Getting to truly know the people you are marketing for, and finding unique ways to tell their stories and connect on a personal level will go a long way to establishing trust and loyalty”.

So, how does thinking about our customers as friends and potential friends change our marketing plans? Here are a few ways:

  • Rather than defining messages the brand wants to send, we develop messages that our friends will want to receive: something that will be useful in their daily life, something that will make them smile or stimulate a new idea.
  • Rather than creating content for strict demographic or behavioral targets for our messages, we create content for the people who have told us they already have a relationship with the brand by signing up for email, subscribing to an RSS feed, and/or becoming a friend on Facebook or following us on Twitter.
  • Instead of creating a TV spot or video that is designed to be watched many times in one or two channels, we create a video that is designed to be talked about, passed along, changed, spoofed.
  • Our brand messages to our friends are designed with the understanding that they have a very brief shelf life, and we need many more messages. A relationship isn’t built by sending one present to a friend on a special occasion; it is built by small interactions every day, over time (and still remembering the special occasion with something special.)

Instead of “targeting our consumers”, brands need to “talk to our friends” and “invite our acquaintances” – and by creating valuable content for both our friends and acquaintances, we earn the right to be introduced to others. This allows the brand message to spread organically – to more channels, in a more credible way, than would be possible for a brand operating in the “targeting” model.

Don’t be shy. Go ahead, say “hello”.

2 thoughts on “Stop Targeting Your Consumers

  1. Thanks for sharing! This certainly made me smile…and made “targeting” seem absurd! How right you are though, that building a brand is building a relationship, and consumers shouldn’t be so objectified!

    That said, all friendships are different from one another…I, for one, don’t talk to every friend in the same way. For big brands, it might be too time-consuming to tweak content to appeal to every individual friend, but I definitely feel that welcoming “friends” to a two-way relationship with the brand is likely to yield a lot more success than talking AT them, or “targeting.”

    I think the best solution is to strike a balance between talking and targeting — finding a streamlined, but still personal way, to reach our…”constituents” and turn them into, in the spirit of targeting, “allies.”

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