Sunday, 12 September 2010

Aim! Fire! - salty thoughts on targeting

Many moons ago I was Account Planning Director at a direct marketing agency. And there we talked about targeting. Obsessively. None of that exploitative ad-gabble about 'brand equity' or 'share of mind' - we talked about targeting. About improving targeting - getting ever closer to the direct marketer's holy grail. To contacting you at the very moment you want to buy what I have to sell you.

At the heart of improved targeting is information - data about you and what you do. There's the obvious stuff - name, address, telephone number and, these days I guess, e-mail. But these are just ways to reach you - on their own these data simply allow me to contact you, they do not allow me to target. If all I have is your address my targeting is determined randomly since I do not know whether you are more or less like to want my goods of services.

So we collected other information and we developed very clever (we thought) systems based on geodemographics (the 'birds of a feather flock together' principle) and psychographics (or 'lifestyle targeting' as the salesman would put it). These systems - built on the back of the electoral register, credit referencing information and other available behaviour data - were aggregated. We didn't know the information about each individual just a set of likelihoods determined by multiple regression analysis. But, couple with a list, we were able to identify the places where the birds who liked our product were flocking, and in doing this to improve our targeting from random.

But this 'profiling' approach - for all its merits and efficiencies - doesn't work that well from the marketers perspective. Despite all the clever number crunching and the melding of more and more information, real behaviour data was always better. Let me explain. Geodemographic profiling will tell me where my customers are concentrated - but it won't tell me enough about my customer's immediate neighbour to generate a sufficient uplift in response.

So why - other than Sunday afternoon indulgence - am I burbling on about targeting? Well, it seems to me that we have to resolve the use of targeting - not by businesses but by public authorities. I recall trying to persuade Bradford Health Authority to use targeting to improve the performance of public health campaigns. Rather than scattering information far and wide in the hope that it reaches the target group, why not use thse geodemographics and other data to get the message directly to the person at risk.

Back then we were sending messages about AIDS to 75 year old grannies and I'm sure not much has changed today. Take salt. For some (but not all) people with hypertension reductions in salt intake are highly recommended as a means to manage heart attack risk. For the rest of us it really doesn't matter - our salt intake in no way constitutes risky behaviour even if it is far above so-called recommended levels. The 20% of the population for whom salt is a risk factor can be easily identified through a simple test (GPs could do this) and the rest of us could go on with having food actually tasting of something.

The same approach could be adopted with other risky behaviours - rather than spending millions sending messages to a general population that isn't at risk (for example in their drinking, smoking or drug habits) we could direct that funding towards those whose risky behaviour does present a problem. We could target but we don't. We could use geodemgraphics, medical records and much else to improve public and primary health but we don't. We opt - for reasons of 'fairness' and equity - to spend the money on general campaigns produced by grand, flash and fancy ad agencies rather than intelligent, targeted direct marketing agencies. And we prefer to ban the agent rather than address the problem user.

Targeting public health campaigns would have a number of beneficial outcomes; Firstly it would mean we get better health outcomes from the spending; secondly, it would get away from the finger-wagging nanny state approach to health campaigns; and third it would allow more risky behaviours to receive public health campaigns. And, of course, it would mean that folk like me who are not massive public health risks and know what we're doing are less pissed off by the hectoring doctors and their chose fake charities.


1 comment:

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Or, and this would be EVEN BETTER: we could just shitcan the idea of "public health" altogether and doctors could get on being beholden to their patients, not the government.