Ted Rubin, our resident rock star, on why matching your product or service with the consumer will always be more effective than hunting your audience like prey.

Targeted ads, targeted content, target demographics… We see the word ‘target’ used again and again in marketing. It’s as common as any of a hundred marketing terms that we throw around without thinking, many of which are perfectly harmless. But who really wants to be a target? You might target me with useful content that speaks to my needs as a consumer, but you might also target me with spam email, false advertising, scam offers, or a cannon. Being called a target makes me feel like the brand is the hunter, and I am the prey.

Think in terms of matching needs and wants

It’s not that the idea of targeting is always a bad thing, even from the consumer’s perspective. Services, products and marketing that are targeted to my distinct needs can be a good thing. However, the idea is often presented in a way that’s clumsy and counter-productive. Why not use a term that summarizes the idea of connecting the consumer with something they need or want, without making them feel like they’re the nameless, faceless demographic target of a hunt?

It’s not as if you have to dig too deeply to find words that better fit what we’re trying to accomplish with the idea of targeting. Just go to thesaurus.com and you’ll find words like:

  • Pairing
  • Connecting
  • Affiliation
  • Alliance
  • Combination
  • Marriage
  • Pair
  • Partnership

Unlike targeting, matching doesn’t carry negative connotations. We all like to be matched with a product, service, entertainment, marketing materials or person that provides something positive in our lives. If we as marketers start thinking in terms of the above set of words when we’re creating ads, rather than aiming at someone, I think our ads would become much more attractive to our audiences. And with today’s transparency, they would feel less like the prey.

“We all like to be matched with a product, service, entertainment, marketing materials or person that provides something positive in our lives.”

View your ads through the eyes of a consumer

I’d much rather see ads that match my interests and budget, than marketing that is targeted at me because I check off the right demographic boxes. It’s great to be matched with a brand that puts the customer experience – and my experience – first, which is much harder to do when that brand simply sees me as a target in some grand marketing campaign. I want to be matched with products that suit my previous purchasing habits from a brand, not bombarded with targeted ads for the hot new thing that doesn’t interest me at all.

For me, matching is all about a mindset of discovery and connection, which is much different than the “hunt” mentality that comes with targeting. Finding a match – based on my genuine interests – requires some level of investment and connection from the brand, even if part of that investment comes in the form of a very effective algorithm. More often, however, it will come in the form of a brand that puts the customer first, and does the nitty-gritty, relationship-based work of discovering what I’m all about over time.

One of the biggest problems with targeting, other than the negative connotations of the word, is that it implies an endpoint in the relationship. You target me with an ad, the ad reaches the target, and you move on to the next thing on your marketing checklist. The transaction is complete, it’ll show up in the analytics, and everyone gets paid.

A match is a collaboration, rather than a one-sided, transaction-based relationship.

A match is something more lasting, even if it’s not permanent. If I’m matched with a service, brand, or marketing campaign that genuinely addresses my needs, then ideally that’s just the start of a longer relationship. I gain confidence that the brand is interested in me as more than a statistic, and the brand has a much easier path to learning more about me. It’s a collaboration, rather than a one-sided, transaction-based relationship.

If we want consumers to feel connections with brands, then we can’t make them feel like they’re being hunted. Let’s change the conversation, and ditch targeting in favor of match-making.

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