Is interest-based targeting replacing demographic targeting as the new model?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

Demographic marketing has long been the industry standard, but does it have a future? Andrew Bailey, chairman at Proximity North America; Michael Benedek, president and CEO of Datonics; Gary Reisman, principal and founder of NewMediaMetrics; and Liz Deutch, EVP, global director, customer engagement at Draftfcb, weigh in.


Andrew Bailey, chairman at Proximity North America, 14 years of marketing experience

Demographic information has long been valuable to marketers because of the type of data it offers, such as age, sex, marital status, income and other details that can assist in targeting. It's also easy to gather and can make marketers more efficient in quickly grouping people into segments they can leverage. However, the digital revolution — and more specifically, the social media revolution — is making true interest-based targeting a reality. This evolution of interest-based targeting, in my opinion, stands to marginalize demographic-based targeting, if not replace it altogether.

There are two main reasons why this paradigm shift is coming. First, interest-based targeting, akin to psychographic and behavioral profiling, is simply more effective than demographics at determining what consumers really want. It allows marketers to view consumers as they truly are: multidimensional individuals with many varied idiosyncratic affinities. As a result, brands can be more efficient in their marketing spend, garner better yield in their conversion efforts and, in some cases, broaden the addressable market of their products.

This level of targeting is a vast departure from what demographics provide, which is an “assumption” of what consumers' interests are based on what most other consumers, who share their demographic makeup, have historically needed or tend to consume.

The high-level associations towards product interest that demographics offer simply don't hold the integrity they seem to or once used to. Racial background, for instance, is becoming less relevant as America's rising Millennial generation is proving increasingly interracial and multicultural.

Second, interest-based targeting is now actually attainable at scale. The deluge of consumer data being collected passively (such as cookies on users' browsers) and proactively (such as users openly sharing personal data on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google + and Foursquare) is creating a true master interest graph, as well as a “database of intentions,” as the author John Battelle puts it, that provides real transparency into what brands, products, services and experiences in which consumers truly have an interest. This, along with newly advanced data and CRM-driven approaches to consumer analysis, will allow marketers to hone in on the most valuable consumers and products with pinpoint accuracy.

The truth is that demographic information has always been merely a proxy for what marketers really need: actionable knowledge on who are the best consumers to target based on what they actually want and have a likelihood to buy. And until now, we've never had the means of gathering and synthesizing such detailed data that can enable one-to-one marketing on this scale.

Which is why things will never be the same again.

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