The Irresistible Dangers of Micro Targeting

The Irresistible Dangers of Micro Targeting

If you are selling diapers (nappies we call them in the UK) you should target parents with babies. If you’re selling razors, target people who shave. This is common sense. Or is it? An article in the Financial Times last week caught our eye because it told the story of how Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s global brand building officer has had a damascene moment. Tide, Pampers, and Gillette have cut their spend on highly targeted ads. In Marc Pritchard’s words, “we targeted too much, and went too narrow.”

This follows the thinking of Byron Sharp, the Australian professor of marketing who argues that brand building needs to address broad audiences. His thesis is that brands grow by working on people around the edge rather than focusing on the core. He uses the example of Coca-Cola, reasoning that if everyone who drinks just one can of Coke per year can be persuaded to drink two, the effect will be much greater than targeting hard-core Coke drinkers.

What does this mean for us business to business marketers? The answer depends on the products we are selling. If we are selling polyethylene raw material, it makes sense to speak to companies that buy PE and process it into plastic buckets or stretch film. Anybody else would be stony ground. However, if we are the marketing director of an accounting firm, we may want to aim beyond finance directors. In fact, since accounting firms are now moving deeper into professional services of all kinds, we may want to address a broad audience of managers in businesses because they all could need us at some time.

The problem with micro targeting is that messages can be too specific. When building a mother brand, as many business to business brands are, they have to stand for something that is emotionally desirable. People who buy Nike, Apple or Microsoft do so for emotional reasons as well as trusting in the wisdom of crowds. They know that millions of others are doing the same. It is the same for business brands. People choose a b2b brand because they have faith in the people, the product and the supply. Emotions play a huge part in the decision. We are not saying that micro targeting is dead, but we are saying that you shouldn’t forget to also go broad because going broad and communicating emotions is the best way of building your mother brand.

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