Target consumers but don’t restrict them

Marketers today see relevant, targeted content as the holy grail. But the danger is that you force consumers to narrow their horizons.


As targeting technology and data grow more sophisticated, and as marketing budgets get tighter, it gives marketers great kudos within their companies to show that not a single penny is wasted. If you can demonstrate that your messages are reaching only those who are likely to be interested, that makes a persuasive case for the efficiency of your spending.

But there’s a flip-side to this coin – marketing in this way assumes people are only interested in what they’re already interested in. As consumers, that makes us more parochial and turns us inward to what we already know, closing our eyes to the world beyond our bubble. That’s not good for acquiring new customers.

Targeted search results provide a good demonstration of this. Search ‘Paralympics’, for example, on, and you are likely to see a page full of coverage from UK news sites dissecting the event that has dominated the news for the past couple of weeks.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this level of interest exists all over the world. But type the same search on the American site and you’ll see – well, a page full of coverage from the same UK news sites. In the US, comparatively little was written about the Paralympics.

This would also explain why, at the time of writing, the homepage of news broadcaster CNN has a story headlined ‘Paralympics: Brilliant but ignored?’ As the piece notes, Paralympics coverage by US broadcaster NBC stretched only as far as four hour-long highlights shows on its specialist sports channel.

In the UK, the CNN headline inspires only cognitive dissonance. It sounds so unlike our experience of the event – but only because we’ve watched it in our own little bubble. Either side of the Atlantic, consumers horizons have been restricted so that it’s harder to see what’s happening on the other. American consumers missed out on a great event as a result.

To give another personal transatlantic example, I can trace back the decline in my interest in US politics to the day Comedy Central owner Viacom shut off UK users from online highlights of the Daily Show. My consumption of American political media dropped off as a result, as did my interest in any other Comedy Central programme, all because Viacom decided I was no longer its target.

Targeting is undoubtedly helpful to consumers in some circumstances – it helps them find what they want without wading through so much chaff that they get bored and give up. But marketers should also beware of limiting their options. It might well lose you customers you didn’t know you could have.

Do you want to be recognised for peerless data insight? Then it’s time to enter the Data Strategy Data Professional of the Year award.

The deadline for entry is Friday 21st September 2012. Gongs will be handed out on Thursday 7th February 2013 at the Lancaster London.

For details of the nomination process, click here.

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