Ask any marketer you know (which may even be yourself) what they think is the most exciting aspect of Facebook ads, and I can just about guarantee you they (or you)'ll say (in exactly these words): "Targeting! There's so much opportunity for targeting people! Such specific targeting too, not just by age or gender, but even interests and location relationship status and more! OMG!"
Which is true. It's what I'd say, it's what I have said when people have asked me. Being able to target people is exciting, because once upon a time we had to spend bajillions of dollars sending our marketing messages to the masses in order to reach those few who were actually interested in our product/service. Sure, you could target to some degree based on what TV show you advertised in, or which paper your advertorial was featured, or the radio station you put your 30-second spot in, but you couldn't be sure you were capturing the right people.
There was no capability to reach a very specific target niche. Not that is, until social media showed up. We weren't telling our TVs, newspapers, radios or billboards every sordid detail of our lives, who we liked, what we didn't like, what brands excited us, where we worked, how much we made and who we were dating. They were lucky if they even knew our name. But social media sites changed the game plan, because all of a sudden they not only knew our name, age, gender and location (all pretty darn valuable info), but they knew just about everything else about our personality, lives and interests, too. And it wasn't long before they realized the goldmine this information was and introduced ads to their networks.
And the rest is history. Well, not entirely. We're still coming to terms with the sudden wealth of psychographic data we have (as marketers) at our fingertips. Now those 'personas' that our agencies charged us millions of dollars to create may actually be useful. All of a sudden 'Mike,' who earns over $75k a year, likes keeping fit, is technologically savvy and has a fetish for 18th century collectible clocks might actually be targetable.
What do we mean when we talk about psychographics?
I like seomoz's definition: '"Psychographics" is a means of identifying users by interests, occupations, roles in life, predilections, and other personal characteristics.'
It's not about how old you are or where you live anymore, but the stuff that really defines who you are - like the fact you voted for Obama, or you like Italian food, or Mad Men or staying up late, or that you're an entrepreneur or stay at home mom with a 6-month-old. Do you think someone selling Mad Men merchandise would make a better return on investment targeting males 18-45 living in the USA, or by targeting everyone who likes Mad Men?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess the latter option, and the good news is that thanks to social networking sites like Facebook it's now possible to do so. Psychographic targeting is pretty cool, but it also has some inherent dangers - in particular, it's very easy to get carried away. It's easy to get too specific or try to be too smart, which is why it's important to consider a few important factors before engaging in psychographic targeting. And it just so happens that I'm going to lay them down for you, to make sure you get the most from your future targeting efforts:
1. Do you know who your target market really is?
Now most marketers have a pretty good idea on the general audience they are looking to target when it comes to age, gender and location. But when we're talking about psychographic targeting, we're really talking more about people's interests, attitudes and behaviors. If you want to engage in psychographic targeting the first thing you need to do is formulate the most detailed view of your target market (or markets) possible.
If you're lucky, you work for a company that has lots of money and a big marketing department, in which case you may already have access to marketing persona research or some demographic/psychographic research on your customers. If not, sit down and think about your product, and everything you know about your customers and the reasons why they would buy your product, and list the attributes you can think of that would likely make up your target market.
Now you have a good idea about what you think your target market looks like, you can marry these up with the options available in the channel you're looking to advertise. And then you know what your options for targeting are.
However - one quick caveat here - be very careful not to go too crazy on defining the characteristics of your target audience. People can get very overzealous about psychographic targeting, so if you're not altogether sure what sort of interests or attitudes your customers exhibit, then don't go guessing. Psychographic targeting can be very successful, but only if you truly know who your target market is. If you don't, then stay away from guesswork here, because you may just end up wasting your money on the wrong market.
2. Are you being too selective?
Following on from my point on overzealousy (which isn't a word but definitely should be) above, once you've established the psychographic attributes you're hoping to target, sit back and consider whether you've been too selective. Advertising is often not effective if the pool of people in your target audience is only five to ten people in the whole world. Platforms like Facebook give you an indication how many people you can reach based on the traits you've chosen to target. If that pool of people is looking a little lonely, you know you need to start again.
3. How are you paying for your ads?
This may seem like a strange question to ask, but it's actually a good point to make. If you're paying CPC (cost per click) for your ads, the need to target is not nearly as strong as if you're paying CPM (cost per '000 impressions). Think about it: if you can make the ad creative and messaging strong enough to resonate with your target market, there's every chance they are the only people who will click on your ad anyway. Everyone else who sees it will likely just ignore it if it's not relevant to them.
If you're advertising a holiday package deal with the headline 'Need a holiday?', you could have targeted people who have 'travel' and 'holidaying' in their interests (and thereby cut down your reach), or you could expect that people who are not interested in a holiday would see the headline and promptly ignore it. I am not sure who on earth those people would be, or if they would even exist, but it's still a reasonable assumption to make. This is of course, if you're paying only for each person who clicks on your ad. If you're paying for everyone who is exposed to it, you're definitely going to want to get selective.
4. Psychographics don't take into account why people share.
So the end result of your social media advertising campaign is most likely to get your target audience to do something - more often than not this is to buy your product/service, but it may also be to sign up to a newsletter, enter a competition or something similar. Psychographic targeting can help you hit the people who may be most likely to engage in your end-goal: that is, to purchase from you or whatever it is you want them to do.
However what it's not taking into account is which people might actually share your content (or why they may do so). The key to social media success is having shareable content, which can then get you much more exposure than your original paid advertising (for free). By targeting the people you think are most interested in consuming your product/service, you may be missing out reaching those who would be more likely to share it with their friends and networks - thereby missing out on potentially hundreds (or thousands) of dollars' worth of free advertising exposure.
5. Privacy issues and misdirection.
These days most of us expect our data is going to be used to some degree by evil corporations to funnel their marketing messages our way. For this reason I'm not upset when I am fed Facebook ads promoting the box set of Community, because I openly liked the TV show on Facebook. Fine. But the problem is as marketers, most of us don't know how Facebook gets all of their data. Do they only use the data we willingly enter into our profiles, and maybe some of the public Facebook pages we like? Or do they use the content we put in our status updates too? Most people don't realize, but they actually do. Ever see a Facebook ad that so closely relates to something you've written in your status update it was just a little too convenient? It's happened to me a number of times.
6. What about gift-givers?
Just a quick point here that may or may not be relevant depending on what product/service you're pedaling - but don't forget that sometimes the people who may purchase from you may not be those who will actually consume the product/service. They may be buying it for a gift or on behalf of someone else. This is just another reason you may want to be careful with how selective you get with your targeting. What you can do if you in this case is to create different ad campaigns - one targeting those who will buy and consume your product, and the other targeting those who may be interested in buying on behalf of someone else. Problem solved.
The ability to target is fun and exciting, but it's altogether too easy to get carried away with it and start making too many generalizations about your customers. Sure, they may have a propensity to attend music festivals (as an example), but how strong is the correlation between people who attend music festivals and your customer base? If it's just a vague connection, you may be cutting out a decent chunk of potential customers by targeting this one segment. Resist the urge to be a psychographic psychopath (I had to say it).
Facebook maintains they rarely do this, but I can think of a number of times it's happened to me. Once I posted about travelling to Vietnam and all of a sudden I was hit by Vietnam-themed ads. Another time within a status about my sick cat I questioned my desire 'to ever have children.' Facebook wasted no time in hitting me with ads directed to parents. It was so obvious I even tweeted about it at the time (evidence below, just to prove I'm not making it up!)
Mention the word 'children' in my status today and all of a sudden I'm getting Facebook ads about childcare. Well played Facebook.
- Cara Pring (@carapring) September 13, 2012
In the first example, the Vietnam-themed ads were actually relevant, albeit a bit of an invasion to my privacy. In the second example, the ads were completely irrelevant. The question then becomes, how accurate are some of the psychographic targeting options via social media channels like Facebook? How are they getting their information, and is it bordering on an invasion of privacy? People can be very antsy about privacy issues on social media networks, and if you're connected to what is perceived to be an invasion of their privacy, it may actually have a negative impact on your campaign.
Just something to think about.
The final word
It may seem that I'm trying to warn you off doing any psychographic targeting, but that isn't the case. Targeting of all kinds - including psychographic - is a brilliant tool to add to any marketer's arsenal. I've used it plenty in the past and I'll use it again in the future. It's worth embracing the technology and testing out what results you get by targeting more specific traits and personas. But it's also important to use it intelligently, and to do so it is worth considering the points I've raised above. Once you've done so, go forth and target psychographically (also not a word, but also should be) to your heart's content.