‘Targeting Everybody’ – The Dull & Wrong Way To Market.

Several years ago, I was asked to establish a ‘digital marketing strategy’ for an event that was just under six weeks from starting. The words’ digital, marketing and strategy’ used together should have frightened me off but alas; I agreed to look at the project despite this business’ lack research, brand measurements, any insight whatsoever from the incumbent marketing team and the best yet; ‘our target market is everybody.’

That team believed that the prestige of the event would allow it to float on, like the youthful butterfly in spring, not a care in the world. However, the only actual resemblance to the butterfly was the short lifespan. The Australian painted lady butterfly lives for 53 days; ironically, I’d guess that’s double the amount of time many ‘marketers’ spend developing their ‘strategy’. No wonder our industry has an indulgence with the solitary focus of short-termism. Take your time, do the work.

“Our target market is everybody. Everybody loves it” is the biggest absurdity in marketing. If you were targeting everybody in the category, that’s different, but most don’t even know what their category is, let alone the people in it. And don’t get me started on brands that think they are important to their consumers.

When we looked at sales the event did do quite well. But when looking at growth, it was a different story. When looking for long term increase in sales (over 15 years), growth was not there, especially in new markets. Remember light buyers vs heavy buyers. If you don’t have growth, what’s the point?

Whether you are more in-tune with Ehrenberg Bass Institute’s sophisticated mass marketing or a more standardised segmentation and targeting model, it’s a careless quest to target everybody. It just does not work.

If we touch on sophisticated mass marketing, from Byron Sharp:

“Sophisticated mass marketing doesn’t mean targeting everyone, nor does it mean treating everyone the same. It means understanding the heterogeneity in your market, and then catering for only the differences that matter in order to maximise reach while not eliminating the benefits of scale. This is hugely different from deciding that your brand can’t appeal to a large part of the market – a surprisingly defeatist strategy that hides under the title of ‘target marketing’, and results in many marketing briefs telling media agencies that the brand’s target audience is less than a fifth of the people who actually buy the brand and category.”

The above, versus that of segmentation, can show quite diverse customer segments, who want different things. From this data, we can develop target markets identified from those segments with the highest value to the business. This task not only results in a significant fiscal benefit, but it ensures marketing spend is attributed to where it will be most effective. This strategic step is evident with companies like Gillette, Apple and Snickers. But smaller players can also use targeting to ensure they are putting resources where they have the best return. We’ve done this in businesses from FMCG, to hospitality, to education. Each came in not clear to whom they are selling, each went out with a defined target, leading to business growth.

Unfortunately, it now seems to be more common than not that we come across a marketing manager that doesn’t know who Byron Sharp is or what STP stands for. As a quick tip, Facebook is not a strategy. 

When selecting a target market, we are plotting out the rules of the game. You should consider;

  • Your company’s comparative strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis competition given the target market’s purchase criteria. 
  • The firm’s corporate goals and the fit of the segment with these goals.
  •  The resources necessary to market successfully to the target segment.
  •  The need for/availability of appropriate collaborators to market successfully. The likely financial returns from the segment. 

If 2020 has given us anything, it is time. How you’ve used it for your business objectives should be a question you ask yourself. A balance of long and short term (emphasis on AND) is of great importance at all times, and should not be overlooked as we move to the return of objectives, budgets and strategies. Ensuring your short term objectives are met (short of it) should not be at the loss of your long term goals that provide your brand is here to stay. 

If you’re fortunate to still be in your role, now is the time to move on the diagnosis and research phase of your brand. Because as we slowly move out of this period, you’re going to want to show how you can grow your business, with data-led insights, not the latest gadgets.

When asked whether we consider Ehrenberg Bass Institute’s sophisticated mass marketing’ or a more standardised segmentation and targeting model to be more reliable, we say ‘both’. We encourage you to do the same.

Dan Wilkins