Why Reducing Audiences to Stereotypes Hurts Publishers

Segmentation of audiences is a popular exercise among publishers and advertisers. But don't take it too far.

Tim_Cain_thumbnailBy Tim Cain 
Founder of Digital First Media

Stereotyping of audiences is an old topic that hasn’t gone away, it’s one of the greatest challenges facing media companies and marketers in creating effective engaged audiences and customers. It actually gets bigger as diversity increases, but somehow there’s a reluctance to give up on the default notions of what different groups in society look like, not least age driven stereotyping.

Of course it was easier when the traditional characteristics of demographics, social class, etc worked as identifiers, particularly in the pre-digital age, labels that led to predict expected behaviours.

The notion of the norm is a dangerous one.

But that was then and this is now, and media owners and marketers alike need to expect the unexpected from any consumer. Quantifying and classifying consumer groups has moved on as the human condition has become more non-conformist and more empowered.

The notion of the norm is a dangerous one, often set on historical parameters, not recognising that within each common base is a nuance, the spark that is individualism. Treating any audience as homogenous, risks miscommunication and reduces attachment. Of course everyone knows this, but what are we doing about it?

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The clever media owner and the clever marketer present a range of options to their audience and consumers, and at the core of this has to lie data driven insight. My industry colleague Rebecca Lieb sums this up nicely “be specific, if you target everyone you’re targeting no-one!” Informed data driven insight might be the science to tackle stereotyping, but personalisation of content and messaging at scale remains elusive for many businesses.

Grouping people too broadly in developing audience segmentation doesn’t account for the multi faceted nature of individuals.

Growing this pot of knowledge, and managing to decipher it, is a huge skills challenge. Thanks to the tech in digital media and marketing, understanding consumer usage, engagement and behaviours like transactional analysis is valuable insight, but overlaying this with the emotional touchpoints of offline behaviour, interests, feelings, attitudes and opinions, is crucial in determining a real view of the audience.

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There’s no silver bullet, but awareness that assumptions are dangerous is important. Grouping people too broadly in developing audience segmentation doesn’t account for the multi faceted nature of individuals.

The vacuous marketing tactic of presenting the over 50’s as one group being possibly the worst example that still persists. I’m sure if those holiday or investment planning ads targeting the over 50’s, and featuring silver haired septuagenarian couples, found their way before Brad Pitt’s eyes he’d really identify with them!

Let the audience decide what they want to engage with, just make sure you give them a range of interesting options!

Tim Cain is a featured expert in ’23 Predictions for Native Advertising in 2017′


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