The Evolution of Audience Targeting: 3 Opportunities for Marketers

Audience Targeting

In the early stages of online advertising, targeting options were predominantly derived from traditional media tactics and focused around demographic, geographic, and time-based information. As global Internet usage increased and technology improved, advertisers realized they could leverage audiences in more advanced targeting methods.

Recent figures released by the United Nations revealed that the world will have nearly 3 billion Internet users by the end of 2014. More users generating more data means that targeting has the potential to become even more intelligent, but it does not come without its challenges.

Here are three areas of opportunity in audience targeting that marketers should be investigating.

1. Cross-Channel

The ability to track the interactions people have on the Web opened up a whole new world of targeting, allowing marketers to better understand and respond to consumer behaviors.

For example, consumer activity captured online enables an advertiser to retarget a shopper with an ad for the exact same TV that person had in his or her shopping cart but didn’t purchase. Retargeting such as this is a powerful tactic that becomes even more sophisticated by layering on additional consumer information.

Channel data must not live in silos, so marketers should leverage the intent signals found across channels like search and social to better target audiences and optimize their programs. Here are several examples that advertisers can take advantage of:

  • The Facebook Exchange (FBX): Retarget select audiences based on traffic delivered through paid search and Google Shopping campaigns. Then, marketers can supplement FBX with performance data from these channels to bid more effectively and measure incremental return on investment (ROI).
  • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA): Google RLSA enables marketers to segment cohorts of consumers based on actions taken on the marketer’s website and target against the data collected. An advertiser can define various audiences such as existing customers, recent purchasers, or shopping cart abandoners, and take actions on keywords, messages, and bids to create a more tailored experience for consumers.
  • Intent-Driven Audiences (IDA): New technology innovations are beginning to truly harness intent signals across channels, matching clicks on search engine ads to audiences on Facebook in real-time.

2. Online-to-Offline

Challenges arise in tracking consumers into the offline world as cookies break down as a reliable form of targeting; however, new capabilities have made it possible to begin to close this gap.

Facebook targeting in particular has become much more sophisticated over the last year with the introduction of Custom Audiences – the ability to find offline users online by tapping CRM systems or email lists, for example.

In essence, marketers can now connect their offline and online worlds to target customers more holistically. Furthermore, these customer groups can then be expanded through Lookalikes to find similar people, based on their demographic profile.

Outside of Facebook, companies like LiveRamp and Revtrax are developing innovative ways to connect consumers at the point-of-purchase in brick-and-mortar locations back to paid search activities and other digital programs. This is unlocking a whole extra layer of targeting data for marketers to connect with valuable audiences offline while simultaneously using this data to optimize online campaigns.

3. Cross-Device

As we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Google enhanced campaigns, mobile has continued to cement itself a permanent fixture in the marketing mix, not just across paid search. Due to tracking limitations, cross-device targeting represents the opportunity with the most grey area of the three here.

When it comes to riding the mobile wave, marketers must use what they know and what’s available. Rely on the data signals available to make informed decisions — on mobile, this means geographic and location data.

Advertisers should monitor consumer activity across their brand’s app to obtain a full customer view and extend some of the same targeting techniques available across desktops to the mobile environment; Custom Audiences is a great example of this. For instance, an advertiser might use Custom Audiences across mobile to target a promotion to re-engage dormant app users.


Marketers know the value of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, but the increasing complexity of the path-to-purchase makes targeting a continued challenge.

Connecting the dots to find desirable audiences across channels, both online and offline, and devices can be an intricate process, so marketers must be open to testing new opportunities and innovations in order to efficiently reach those who are most likely to convert.

An inherent shift is happening and marketers should begin to adjust their mindsets from simply targeting search keywords or social interests to targeting audiences, no matter the channel or device, based on demonstrated intent.

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