Reinventing targeting for the digital world

I’ve been reading a few articles about the risk of a return to mass marketing and why it would be a mistake for brands to abandon the old practice of targeting. Yet I can’t help thinking that both the concept of mass marketing and targeting can’t be taken literally — as we know there isn’t a mass audience anymore for the simple reason that there are no more ‘mass’ media in the way we used to refer to them in the past.

What we have today are platforms that have the potential to connect billions of people around cultural cues, needs, emotions, locations or fleeting experiences. These connections can be very strong and create the equivalent of what we used to refer as a ‘mass audience’, but they are also momentary and could happen at any time.

The notion of targeting is still alive and kicking, and possibly even more important than in the past. But it is a completely reinvented notion of targeting. We used to target people for who they were, their demographics or lifestyle, even generation, now we target them based on what they do and where they are and what they might feel or need accordingly.

I can be targeted by an international flower delivery company when I am messaging my mom for her birthday and feeling sad that I cannot be there with her to celebrate — as demonstrated by Facebook’s plans that emphasized the importance of bots in the coming years.

I can be targeted by a cold remedy when I am outside a pharmacy and it is raining and temperature are freezing and I am messaging my friend that I will stay home tonight because I am not feeling well.

Does it matter that I am a) a woman b) educated c) that likes traveling? Not in that moment, not for that brand.

All brands will care about is that I am entering a need state or an emotion, that they can get data about it and immediately respond with a message that will be relevant and likely to produce a reaction (eg. purchase).

Or that I am participating into an event, emotion or situation that connects me with many other people at the same time and/or in the same place. An event or emotion that brands can relevantly participate into.

Targeting in the digital world will be fluid, timely, clever, creative and oh so important. And the marketing infrastructure to act upon it even more critical.

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