CANNES: With the rise of programmatic ad buying, the capabilities of marketers targeting an audience of likely buyers have never been greater, but the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute maintains that segmentation, whether for creative or media planning, can limit a brand’s ability to grow.

At WARC’s How to be a smart targeter session in Cannes, the Institute's Associate Professor Rachel Kennedy and Dr. Virginia Beal argued that targeting should prioritise the buyers a brand hasn't reached before. (WARC subscribers can access the report here: A dollar to spend? Three takes on targeting.)

Contrary to the view that marketers should target likely buyers is the institute’s finding that brand share bears very little relationship to the segments that brands may try to appeal to. Instead, Beal said, “we really see it as a size game”.

“As brands grow they bring new people into their brand who have not bought from them in the past. This has really important implications for your priorities as to who you need to target,” Prof. Kennedy noted.

“If you’re using targeting to get to people you haven’t got to in the past, fantastic. If you’re targeting at scale, the evidence supports that.” She continued: “If you’re using targeting in any way that’s limiting who you’re talking to … you are limiting your potential for growth.”

Furthermore, they claimed that engagement metrics were often given too much weight by marketers, especially when these are prioritised over reach.

Also speaking at the event, Vanella Jackson, CEO of Hall & Partners, countered that brands have to make choices “where they feel they’re going to get the most back on their investment”.

Beyond the media discussion, Jackson added that the conversation need not be just about channels that can give a brand reach, but about “more creative ways” of finding reach.

In this context, she praised Diageo’s use of event marketing as a channel, the impact of which can go much further than the media the brand pays for.

Meanwhile, the use of segmentation from an agency standpoint, she said, remains critical. “As much knowledge and insight and data that we can bring to understanding [the consumer] is critical.”

The question of whether to prioritise targeting or reaching consumers resurfaced in 2016, when Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s CMO, admitted that the company’s approach to targeting on Facebook had been flawed. In widely reported remarks, Pritchard made it clear: “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow.”

If you missed WARC's session 'How to be a smart targeter' in Cannes this year, register here to watch a recording of the presentations.

Data sourced from WARC