Smart list targeting goes beyond demographics

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In the beginning of circ marketing, there were demographics…

Actually, there still are, and they play an important role in targeting and segmenting your list for particular offers.  However, list targeting for online or e-mail offers requires additional thought and criteria, mainly around your customers' past behavior and how they have responded to online offers.

Traditional print circulation records and newsletter subscription files commonly include robust information provided by the contact at time of subscription. This includes basic business card data, and this information continues to play a significant role in optimizing the audience for your campaigns. 

However, with constant change in the e-mail landscape, as well as the fierce competition for attention, the relevance of your offer is essential to success, with traditional demographics playing a lesser role. Look at what your audience has done with past e-mails, how they are interacting on your Web site, and what features they have clicked on in recent e-mail communications. The metrics of their interaction are the key to understanding what your customers or prospects want.

For example, say you are a tech-focused b-to-b title marketing an event for senior level IT managers about desktop security. Typically, you would look for contacts with the appropriate titles within a given geographic radius of the event, but the reality is that not all senior level IT managers are interested in desktop security, as IT roles are often very specific. Therefore, you should look beyond the demographics to other areas, including whether they've interacted with any other offer similar to the scheduled event. Was it recently?  Have they consumed content from your site on a similar topic?

The accompanying chart compares the results of three campaigns. Half the list was selected based on very specific demographic and geographic criteria meeting the exact target audience specifics. The other half of the audience was selected using much less stringent demographics, but focused on people who had recently consumed similar information. The e-mail content was identical.

The results are clear, and in almost all cases, the same. People selected based on their prior behaviors responded much more positively compared to demographics only. 

One irrelevant message to an individual can trigger her to opt out. A recent study shared at an E-mail Insider Summit showed that 53% of folks opting out do so because of irrelevant messages. The more pertinent your offers, the more the recipient sees you as a valuable resource for information, and the more likely she will continue to happily receive and engage with your e-mail offers. The resulting ROI is exponential.

Behavioral targeting is not only significant to individual campaigns, but sets good long-term response patterns with your audience. Ignoring it may tell your recipients that you do not really understand who they are and do not respect their time. Considering the challenge in gaining permission-based e-mails, and maintaining a healthy and profitable list, making an effort to better under your audience is an important way to keep them satisfied and responding.

Sarah Welcome is director of customer intelligence for International Data Group's Corporate Services Group. Reach her through Justin Kazmark at



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