Marketing’s Holy Grail

Target audience insight. It’s the “who” of effective marketing strategy. It inspires creative teams to greatness. It makes the difference between good communications and powerful engagement. In short, it’s the Holy Grail to many marketers. Yet the quest to find it can be worthy of an Indiana Jones sequel.

Identifying your target audience is easy. Many strategies simply label the target – Moms. Adults age 25-54. C-level executives. Better strategies dig a layer deeper, describing something about them — Moms who are frustrated because their kids won’t eat healthy foods. Adults age 25-54 who own a car. C-level executives who love golf.

These phrases do describe the target audience, but they still only crack the surface. Where’s the insight? Insight results from painting a complete picture of your target, viewing the world through their eyes.

As an experiment, I recently asked Marketing Discussion Board, How would you describe your job in language a 5-year-old could understand? The responses included:

“I make some of the commercials that you see on TV and in mommy’s magazines.”

“I do things that make people happy to buy stuff.”

“I meet people and request them to buy (my company’s product), the same as I request you to drink milk.”

Someone even said, “I’m guessing, ‘I think s*** up’ probably won’t cut it. So how about…I think up ways to tell people about the stuff companies make, so they can sell it.”

It was apparent that each respondent thought carefully about what would be understandable, important, and appropriate for a 5-year-old. This same skill should guide the development of compelling target audience insight. When you get it right, your marketing will interest, engage, and motivate your target.

Our new B2B campaign for Manheim, the world’s largest wholesale automotive auction, is designed to do exactly that – articulate the benefits of buying and selling vehicles at auction through the eyes of the various personalities that conduct business there.  Whether a Magician or Cowboy, Detective or Prospector, we hope Manheim’s target sees a bit of themselves in the campaign and is more receptive to Manheim’s message as a result.

So before you start your next campaign, dig deep, walk a mile in your target’s shoes and, find out what is really important to them. You’ll be glad you did.

— Pam Alvord, EVP, Chief Brand Strategist


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5 responses to “Marketing’s Holy Grail

  1. Parag Panjwani

    Hey Pam,

    I come from a communications background and understand exactly what you are saying but the point that most often stops us from doing what you suggest is the number of audiences that we need to straddle across. Sometimes its impossible to cater to just one kind of audience nor can there be multiple messaging for each audience.

    I as part of a team have always made an effort to communicate in a language that most appeals to each of the defined TG, but its always a task and very often when we view the our communication a few months down the line, even we feel this doesn’t exactly talk to the audience, but its too late by then.

    Would love to discuss this further on a chat forum sometime..


    • pamalvord

      Thanks for your comments Parag. The situation you describe is a tough one. Here are some ways that it can be addressed:

      1. When developing the overall marketing strategy, we work hard to identify the core target — the people that will best help us achieve our business goals. If there are other important target groups, we separate them out as secondary audiences.

      2. Each target that represents a significant opportunity to increase the brand’s business and help achieve its business goals is profiled. Target audience insights are identified and personas are developed.

      3. These insights and personas then guide the development of different messages and media tactics based on the way that each audience will most effectively engage with the brand.

      4. As a result, there are often multiple briefs — a core brand brief, focused on insights and messages for the core target, as well as secondary briefs focused on more targeted niche opportunities. These briefs inform both creative and media plan development.

      While this is definitely more work upfront, it usually avoids the situation you describe, where the final produced work falls short of truly relating to the target.


  2. Hi Pam, I like the way that you approached this topic. And my apologies if my forthcoming example has become overused but have you ever studied Jenny Craig’s website messaging? They have done a great job of doing what you are referring to-except they have identified four user groups that categorize the way that their audiences use their services.

    Often this form of segmenting one’s users is referred to as persona based marketing. Often when brands do the sort of deep digging that you have talked about they are able to identify multiple personas. So for this reason I can see where Parag is coming from.

    Nonetheless, this is a highly compelling piece and I’m willing to bet that you’re doing great things for Manheim/Trader.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on personas.

    • pamalvord

      Thanks Benin. As a Strategic Planner, I am a huge fan of personas. We do our best work when we have these rich target insights. The biggest challenges are having enough time to build them and accessing relevant, insightful data (particularly for B2B clients) .

      I agree that there are times when multiple personas are necessary, as long as they are truly discrete and represent different business opportunities. Too often, an overly broad target or multiple personas are simply ways to avoid making tough decisions about the primary focus of the marketing message. Broad, all-inclusive targets tend to lead to less specific, ineffective messaging.


  3. Pingback: Communications plan or connections plan. Using connection planning to target and engage customers during the buying cycle. | Kilgannon Says – Atlanta Ad Agency

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