The APG recently hosted one of their Noisy Thinking events on target audiences and whether we need them anymore. Since target audiences are part of our day to day in the research world, this immediately piqued our interest.
The structure of Noisy Thinking is a bit different from your average talk or presentation. 5 speakers get a short slot in which to deliver their point of view. The audience then splits into groups to discuss what they’ve heard before feeding back to the room.
Lucy Jameson, former CEO of Grey, pointed out the benefits of embracing a wider audience. She believes it will help to increase penetration as brands are built over years not quarters.
It’s about reaching out to the broadest audience possible. So for her, target audiences are definitely of limited use.
Will Whalley, a Brand Planner at Google, spoke about his experience where targeting tools have traditionally been used to help define and target specific audiences. However following the findings of Byron Sharp, clients are increasingly concerned that potential buyers are slipping through their net. The same Google tools can be used to discover outliers within the potential market so that these people can also be targeted, even if they lie beyond the defined target audience.
Frank Durden, CMO at Binatone also mentioned the importance of Byron Sharp in influencing how the client views the market. Durden suggested ‘addressable market’ as an alternative term to ‘target audience’ in order to assuage client concerns that by defining a target audience they’re missing out on potential sales. He feels that marketers want hard facts: they don’t want to know that the audience ‘might not like it’ but instead ‘how many aren’t going to like it?’ Adopting the right kind of language, and understanding this tension between qualitative and quantitative approaches can facilitate a better connect with the client.
The Purchase Journey
Vera Budimlija, CSO at MEC talked about how the concept of target audience only becomes useful when the consumer is at a particular point in the consideration/purchase journey. When they are a passive audience, not necessarily in the market to buy, this is when having a target group is useful for a brand. At this point the brand needs to understand their specific audience’s motivations, behaviour and needs in order to build insight.
However when the audience is active and in the market to buy, it’s more about reading behavioural signals. Vera used the example of Nationwide: if they’re looking to sell mortgages to an audience that is in the market, they might advertise on Rightmove, therefore following the behavioural signals of their active audience (who are in the market to buy a property).
A time and a place..
Across all the discussion it became clear that there’s a time and a place for using target audiences. Qualitative research is definitely one of them. As Andy Davidson, MD of Flamingo pointed out, how are you going to find insights that are relevant to your brand if you don’t first define the target audience? You need to think about your target as a real person, and for that you need to narrow down your audience to a particular target.
Davidson also pointed out an interesting difference between your creative target and your actual target. Every brand wants everyone to buy it, but a creative target tells you who you want people to think the product is aimed at. He used the example of Mercedes, an inspirational brand, to show that people want to think Mercedes is for a particular type of person, even if they personally don’t think of themselves as being part of that group. They may even aspire to be part of that group.
Overall the evening gave us a really useful window into how target audiences are viewed and discussed by ad agencies and by clients. Within the context of research, it’s clear that the practical and intellectual need for target audiences is still very strong. They are an integral part in helping us explore and develop brands in a meaningful and insightful way.
Lucy Foylan, Researcher at The Nursery