Forget Demographic Targeting, the Future Belongs to Advocacy Engagement
It seems a little fitting to talk about the validity of demographic targeting the day after an election in which demography played a key role in deciding the outcome. No matter what side of the aisle you sit or which key issues you support, you belong to a specific demographic that pollsters and statisticians have spent a great deal of time (and money) on trying to figure out what you stand for and the likelihood that it will influence other areas of your life.

Creating Messages That Resonate

Recently, we spoke with Bryan Gernert, chief executive officer at Resonate to better understand the flaws of demographic targeting and how Resonate works to ask better questions so marketers can improve the accuracy of targeted advertising.

Resonate strives to help marketers understand “why” the audiences they target take action and is credited for pioneering a new model for using Big Data to develop a more sophisticated understanding of consumer values, attitudes and beliefs. Having worked with commercial brands, non profits and political campaigns of all leanings, Mr. Gernert says that demography is just a filter and not a target. As a result, it’s not always reliable to deliver one message to a specific group based on their demographics. Rather, Resonate seeks to ask questions to learn more about how individuals engage, behave and relate to specific topics and issues and then help brands craft appropriate messages.

It seems fairly common sense to ask questions first and develop messages second, but for many marketers, messages are developed based on assumptions about what car you drive, what kind of technology you use (PC v. Mac, anyone?), and where you shop. But you’re more than just the type of shampoo you use, so what if you were targeted with advertising that accounted for your personal experiences?

Driving Targeting Through Advocacy Engagement

To this point, Gertner actively endorses a model based on advocacy engagement, which
refers to an individual’s history of being emotionally or actively involved in issue advocacy. This involvement is structured as a hierarchy covering a wide range of activities from issue-based voting and research, to attending rallies, speeches, or protests, to donating money or time to campaigns.


Advocacy Engagement Hierarchy

Resonate strongly believes that identifying engagement levels and managing messaging and movement up the hierarchy is the most effective way to build valuable relationships and drive action. 

The Campaign for Big Data

It’s not so radical when you consider the more concerted effort to incorporate big data into your marketing, as well as how the psychology of personalization influences customers. Just yesterday, we discussed the different personalization techniques retailers can use to increase average order values. Unlike traditional advertising or demographic targeting, Resonate’s targeting strategies are audience-based rather than content-based.

Because data sets are created based on various combinations of approaches to targeting (demographics, issue positions, political/ideological orientations, mainline media behavior and issue advocacy), online audiences can be evaluated based on their engagement with target issues. This helps marketers better understand the degree to which an individual expresses their support for an issue so that they can target them with the right message content, as well as the appropriate call to action. 

The future of online campaigns, no matter their outcome, belongs to big data. Even if you can segment your audience by specific demographics, it's no guarantee that you're reaching your targeted audience with the right messages in the right places.