Marketers’ Biggest Content Targeting Mistake

Brands are increasingly aware that content targeting is a powerful tactic, yet many are still not succeeding with their efforts. Why? Their failings are often due to one common mistake: marketers start the targeting process far too late.

At News360, a personalized news reader app, we work with brands to help promote content, and we consistently see that many only think about targeting at the time of distribution, and not during creation. Unfortunately, this is neither the most effective nor the most cost-efficient approach to reaching specific audiences.

Of course, targeting content once it’s ready isn’t wrong; we’ve spent a lot of time ourselves building out an entire platform designed to deliver the right pieces to the right individual at the right time. But it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Over and over again we see that the content that truly connects is targeted during the development process, not after it has been completed. So, what’s a better approach? Marketers can do a better job of targeting content during creation as well as distribution by doing these three things:

1. Identify Your Target Audience(s) and Their Needs Early

When thinking about content creation, marketers often start with the wrong question. They ask, “What do we want to cover?” instead of, “Who do we want to reach?”

The flaw in this approach is that it leads to topics that may not resonate with the right potential customers.

To avoid this trap, start your content creation process by identifying your intended audience. This can mean choosing demographic features such as age, sex or race, but it can also mean flagging characteristics such as interests and content consumption habits.

Ideally, sit down and build out a few core personas that you want to reach. Make these profiles as detailed as possible by determining what each group likes, dislikes, needs and fears.

How does this tie into developing content? Take the example of a financial services company trying to highlight their 401k products. Without audience identification the company might create a broad article about why contributing to a retirement account consistently is important.

However, if the brand takes the time to think about which groups it wants to reach with its content (e.g., new parents or adults in their 50s who have under-saved), the resulting pieces can be much more nuanced—perhaps covering how to save for retirement and college at the same time, or effective ways to catch-up with contributions later in life.

2. Tailor Specific Content Pieces to Your Specific Audiences

A key thing to remember is that targeting during creation doesn’t stop once you’ve got your audiences and topics set.

Think about how to structure pieces for specific groups during every step of development, from writing (or photographing/filming/designing) to picking headlines and deciding on presentation.

Why does this matter? Because different audiences have significantly different preferences when it comes to content consumption.

For example, a recent study of content habits by generation found Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials each prefer to engage on different devices (Millennials like phones), at different times (Baby Boomers like mornings), and in different formats (Gen Xers like long articles).

Similarly, studies have shown that men and women interact with eCommerce sites differently, and certain races/ethnicities spend more time on certain online platforms.

As you move through the content creation process think through the preferences of your personas (Do they like long pieces or short pieces? Text posts or videos? Lots of detail or quick graphics?), then tailor each offering specifically to that audience.

3. Keep Testing and Experimenting With Your Content Pieces

Once you’ve identified your audiences and specifically crafted pieces for them, you’re basically done, right?

Not yet. True targeting success—when specific groups engage and convert at much higher rates than average—tend to come after consistent testing and experimentation.

Why? Testing is key because audiences are fickle and have highly specific preferences that vary widely by subject, platform and a host of other factors. You may find that a certain topic, format or headline that you thought would be a big win with your target group falls flat. And that’s OK, because if you consistently produce content over a long enough period of time you’ll come to learn the nuances of your consumers.

To truly succeed with content targeting, this persistence needs to be paired with experimentation. Testing pieces that are too similar over and over won’t reveal the key insights you need. It’s necessary to take chances and try wildly different content types, structures and headlines to see what resonates (and what doesn’t).

The need for perseverance and boldness holds true for content distribution as well. Relying on audience assumptions for targeting (e.g., serving content about pharmaceuticals solely alongside health content) can result in huge missed opportunities for engagement.

At News360, we see counter-intuitive engagement patterns with content all the time. For example, individuals will click on branded finance content while looking at sports stories, or check out pieces written by consumer packaged goods companies while learning about space.

Audiences don’t necessarily follow the paths online you think they do, so the key to is to craft pieces they want to engage with in all sorts of situations. Ultimately, if you approach targeting content the right way—if you clearly identify your personas, regularly create with them in mind, and take a bold approach to distribution—your audiences will start to consistently appear and interact, often in the most unexpected places.


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