The Paradox of Hypertargeting: Context Matters

Business Insights

Discover the secrets behind personalized, hypertargeting marketing and how retailers can predict your needs without knowing you.

Bryan Noguchi
By Bryan Noguchi
MRI Paradox of Hypertargeting

The other day I had a client describe how impressed she was that a pet retailer’s recent email to her addressed a need and an action she really needed to take. She effectively made the comment: “How do they know me so well?” The answer is that they don’t. But they do know that the habits and signals she’d been sharing with them matched other customers’ signal sets well enough to make her response predictable. It’s those signals that placed her in a cohort large enough to warrant targeting, which is to say, she fit a profitable profile.

Are You an Advertiser or a Stalker?

The idea of hypertargeting (the notion that marketing can tailor connection to a specific individual) has been around for a while, but in recent years technology has made this a practical and potentially engaging way to connect with audiences.  But if an individual is truly a unique one-of-a-kind, their value to advertisers is inherently limited.  The value of an individual from the perspective of a marketer lies in our ability to place them within the context of a larger group of people who share the same potential to become a customer. 

Advertisers and marketers often become so enamored with the tools at their disposal that they lose sight of the basics.  Hypertargeting is one of those tactics that reminds me of a conversation I once overheard: “Just because it comes in your size, doesn’t mean you should wear it!”  Which is to say that context matters.  Make no mistake, I DO want you to feel unique and special, but also don’t want you to feel creeped out by stalker-ish marketing tactics.  The reality is that there is no point in making you feel uncomfortable because as I mentioned (and not to discount your place in the universe) your individuality only matters in marketing as long as it places you within a larger group.  This is central to one simple truth:  success is measured in mass response or the collective responses of individuals, not so much in the individual respondents themselves.  This is a good thing – it means that there’s no inherent pressure for advertisers to behave like stalkers.

Start with Advanced Audience Profiling

Audience profiling is the lynchpin behind our ability to use hypertargeting because it sizes and contextualizes our best audiences – it helps us to understand if our planned hundreds or thousands of individualized pieces of communication (personalized emails, etc.) will resonate with 10% or 90% of a given universe.  Audience tools like MRI Simmons allow us to granularly define and reliably size almost any target one can imagine. 

Success is measured in mass response or the collective responses of individuals, not so much in the individual respondents themselves.

Example, MRI Audience Breakdown

For example: Within MRI I can see that out of all purchasers of dog biscuits in the past 6 months, 838,000 have also shopped on the aforementioned pet retailer’s website for any reason. Of these, 528,000 were women. If I am the pet retailer and I want to sell more dog biscuits, I can contextualize my own data within this potential universe – maybe I have 211,000 women who have purchased dog biscuits on my website – a whopping 40% of the estimated potential universe! I can justify investing in segmenting and personalizing for this group of individuals because I understand their place within a larger audience.  What’s especially helpful is that MRI also told me (among many other things) the following about this woman:  

Example, Audience Persona

With this information, I can hyper-target this consumer profile that has demonstrated success for me and begin to scale. However, if that 40% number were smaller, say 4%, making that same investment in time and resources becomes difficult because I would know that there is a larger universe of opportunity out there not amongst my online dog biscuit purchasers. 

Hypertargeting is a Means, Not an End

We opened with an anecdote about the definite benefits of hypertargeting – but this should never be your starting point.  Technology, AI, etc. enable hypertargeting and allow advertisers to identify and take advantage of smaller and smaller pockets of potential customers within our target audience, allowing us to cobble together scale and therefore efficiency.  Audience profiling helps us to establish the boundaries of that potential scale and to clearly categorize those pockets. It also helps us determine messaging: what to say, where to say it and when to say it.  When we recombine those pockets into addressable wholes we can answer questions like:  

  • What unifies the actions of the majority of these individuals?   
  • What commonalities can we identify?  
  • What messaging resonance points seem to be driving the actions we want?  
  • What do we understand about audience need state or purchase cycle?   

Hypertargeting allows us to address and leverage the answers to these questions and to tailor accordingly, but it is not the source of our understanding.  Our strategy for hypertargeting needs to be predicated not on how one profile tends to approach a given purchase, but rather on how dozens, or hundreds or thousands of individuals that fit that profile commonly approach said purchase.  And that understanding begins with effective and comprehensive audience profiling. 

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